Tag Archives: falklands

It Only Took the Royal Navy 37 Years to Come Full Circle

Once upon a time: HMS Ark Royal (R09) loaded with F-4 Phantoms and Buccaneers. 

The country that in 1918 designed the first ocean-going aircraft carrier retired their last “big deck” flattop, the 53,000-ton HMS Ark Royal (R09) in 1979, taking the ability to support (F-4) Phantom FG.1s and Buccaneer S.2 bombers with her.

27 November 1978: 892 NAS Phantom XT870/012- last fixed-wing catapult launch from HMS Ark Royal took place at 15.11 that day, flown by an RAF crew of Flt Lt Murdo MacLeod and Deputy Air Engineer (RIO) Lt D McCallum in the back seat (pictured).

The replacement for Ark Royal was to be the 22,000-ton “through deck destroyer” HMS Invincible, capable of fielding a small force of about a dozen helicopters or so and V/STOL Sea Harriers. A mid-sized (28,000-ton) 1950s-era Centaur-class carrier, HMS Hermes (R12), was to be kept around for a minute for use as a “commando carrier,” akin to an LPH in the U.S. Navy.

Then came the Falklands War, and with Ark Royal long gone and Invincible only able to carry a handful of aircraft, the aging Hermes was stacked with an impressive 26 Harriers (to include 10 RAF GR.3 ground-based variants) and 10 Sea Kings. Retired in 1983, she was sold to India two years later– a country that loved Hermes intently as INS Viraat until she was sent to the breakers this very month.

Since 1984, the UK had to make do with the postage-stamp-sized “Harrier Carriers” of the expanded Invincible-class, which were maxed out at 8 Sea Harriers and 12 helicopters although they typically carried far less. By 2014, even those vessels were gone.

However, last week the new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea with the largest single air wing any British ship has carried since Hermes was put to pasture in 1983: 14 F-35B Lightning (reportedly “the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world”) and eight Merlin HM2 (“Grey Merlin”) ASW helicopters– two of which are “baggers” carrying experimental Crowsnest AEW radar sets.

The F-35s come from the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), while the Merlins come from 824 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm– truly a joint wing with Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and USMC elements.

Of note, a QE-class carrier has deck and hangar space for as many as 45 F-35s. So one day they may reach 1979 levels of seapower again…

The most important part of a Harrier’s selling point

British air power in the Falklands Islands War in 1982 was limited to a handful of Harriers crammed on a pair of smallish carriers and a merchant ship, while the Argentines were able to throw all of their land-based A-4s and Mirage III/Vs at the British task force.

A low-flying Argentine Mirage attacks the British at San Carlos, Falklands, May 1982

However, the Brits did manage to use their “jump jets” to good effect, including creating a FOB ashore.

A Harrier hide.

The San Carlos Forward Operating Base was variously called West Wittering, HMS Sheathbill and Sid’s Strip (after Squadron Leader Syd Morris)

As noted by Think Defence:

The FOB was variously called West Wittering, HMS Sheathbill and Sid’s Strip (after Squadron Leader Syd Morris) depending on what service you belonged to. The final FOB, operated by 11 Squadron RE and commanded by the RAF had a 260m runway, dispersal areas for four aircraft, a separate vertical landing pad and a redesigned and reinstalled bulk fuel installation that could store 18,000 Litres.

More here.

Meanwhile, down in the South Atlantic

In Argentina, the 36th Anniversary of that country’s ugly defeat by a numerically smaller British expeditionary force in the Falkland Islands War– which the Argentine military has never recovered from– is still a fresh wound. Below from Euronews, with commentary from the Argie Minister of Defense:

Going beyond the rhetoric, Buenos Aries has recently taken possession of five very old former French Navy Super Etendards to go along with their vintage models and is reportedly hoping to lay hands on as many as 24 surplus Mirage 2000s the French have in storage, which is sure to be a hit in London.

Sure, the RAF keeps a quartet of Eurofighter Typhoons at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falklands, but when it’s 24:4, things could get dicey if the Argentinians get lucky and the Brits have few of these sexy super jest to spare when accounting for those needed for Quick Reaction Alerts in the UK and growing NATO obligations.

Plum Duff flotsam

Here we see the SAS beret, stable belt, medals, wings and rank slides belonging to Captain Andy Legg (22 SAS) which will be going up for auction with Woolley & Wallis on May 3rd, 2018.

Captain Legg, as a young lieutenant, commanded the SAS team that was inserted onto the Argentinian mainland to gather intelligence about the enemy airbase at Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego with an aim to destroy the Argentine Armada’s sole Exocet-carrying Super Étendard squadron on the ground in an echo to the SAS’s WWII North African lineage destroying Luftwaffe bases supporting Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

The recon mission, with 8 SAS commandos inserted by helicopter from the Harrier carrier HMS Invincible, was termed Operation Plum Duff. The plan was part of the larger Operation Mikado which would have seen nearly a quarter of the entire SAS– the 55 men of B Squadron– land directly on the runway Entebbe-style and exfil towards Chile afterward. While Plum Duff was a disaster and Mikado itself was scrubbed as a suicide mission, the event did tie down four battalions of elite Argentine Marines, arguably the best troops in their whole military, and they were sorely missed in the Falklands.

The estimate for the Legg collection is £40 000.

A trophy Sterling-Patchett, with an interesting back story

The Sterling-Patchett Mk 5 was a silenced version of the Sterling Submachine-gun. The modification was the work of George Patchett, who had originally designed the Sterling itself. The Mk 5 was adopted by the British armed forces as the Gun, Sub-machine, 9mm L34A1.

This is the commercially sold version with a “crinkle” finish, which featured a wooden foregrip to protect the firer’s hand from the integral suppressor unit, which became hot from the propellant gas which vented into it upon firing:

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029460

This particular gun was captured from Argentinian forces during the 1982 Falklands Conflict by the British Army in June 1982 along with 20,000~ other sundry surrendered arms. It was issued (along with standard versions of the Sterling SMG) to the Argentine Marines, and was most notably used by their assault commandos – the Buzos Tacticos – during the initial stages of the Argentine invasion.

These Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901, seen outside of Government House during the Argentine invasion, would later return to the Falklands as part of 42 Commando and settle scores, being the first unit to raise the Union Jack at the compound.

Onyx on the rocks, err ‘impact hydrography’

While the RN committed a number of sexy modern nuclear-powered attack submarines to the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982– and they proved effective in making the Argentine Navy return to port after HMS Conqueror sank the WWII-era cruiser ARA General Belgrano with 323 lost at sea (among the bulk of that service’s losses in terms of humans on the butcher’s bill)– there was one creepy little diesel boat poking around close to shore.

El Snorkel has a great article from Lt Cdr Andy Johnson Submarine, Commander HMS ONYX (S21) during the conflict. An Oberon-class submarine, she was but 241-feet long and weighed only 2,400-tons, smaller than a WWII U.S. Navy fleet boat.

Commissioned in 1967, she had a cramped crew of 6 officers and 62 men and made the slow transit from the UK some 8,000nm south to the Falklands MEZ with a special 5 man diving chamber 10 MK 24, 2 Mk 20 and 11 Mk 8 torpedoes aboard.

She stopped halfway at windswept Ascension and picked up a team of British frogmen, flown ahead to await their ride south.

At Ascension Island, 12 May 1982, ONYX boarded SAS and SBS special forces personnel and supported them during a series of operations. IWM photo

Her shallow operating depth allowed her to creep in close to shore for commando and surveillance work in relatively uncharted areas where a nuke boat would be hard pressed. Officially, “her ability to operate silently close inshore enabled her to play an important role. In addition to providing a submarine deterrent and enforcing the exclusion zone surrounding the Islands, ONYX undertook reconnaissance, taking periscope photographs of enemy installations and likely landing areas for Special Forces operations.”

And it was sometimes very hairy.

From Johnson:

An effort to complete a reconnaissance mission at short notice nearly ended the patrol. Many of the charts used to navigate in those waters had not changed significantly since James Cook had first drawn them. The occasional soundings he made at that time were undoubtedly adequate for his small sailing vessel. They scarcely matched the requirements of a 2,500 ton submarine two centuries later. In consequence, ONYX discovered an uncharted pinnacle of rock in a most dramatic fashion – by running in to it whilst dived. Although everyone reacted admirably and control was quickly regained, it is probably safe to say the only people on board who appeared really calm were our ‘guests’ from special forces. Not entirely due to their steel nerves – no-one had time to explain to them what had happened! This piece of ‘impact hydrography’ put two out of the six forward torpedo tubes out of action. This was serious enough in itself, but was made worse since the two affected tubes were those used exclusively for wire guided torpedoes. As a result, the fore-ends’ crew had to reorganise our full torpedo load. This was akin to playing solitaire. However, they first had to make a free ‘hole’ by moving tons of additional equipment out into the rest of the submarine. Even then there were still weapons weighing tons suspended in mid-air as the reshuffle continued.

The rest here.

When the incoming missiles came into view, officers on the bridge were ‘mesmerized’ by the sight

A cara cara bird perches atop the remote memorial to the 21 men of HMS Sheffield

Some 35 years after the events, the MoD report into the loss of the Royal Navy’s Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield in the Falklands, following a hit from an Argentine Exocet missile, shows why is was redacted and withheld for the past several decades.

From The Guardian:

Some members of the crew were “bored and a little frustrated by inactivity” and the ship was “not fully prepared” for an attack.

The anti-air warfare officer had left the ship’s operations room and was having a coffee in the wardroom when the Argentinian navy launched the attack, while his assistant had left “to visit the heads” (relieve himself).

The radar on board the ship that could have detected incoming Super Étendard fighter aircraft had been blanked out by a transmission being made to another vessel.

When a nearby ship, HMS Glasgow, did spot the approaching aircraft, the principal warfare officer in the Sheffield’s ops room failed to react, “partly through inexperience, but more importantly from inadequacy”.

The anti-air warfare officer was recalled to the ops room, but did not believe the Sheffield was within range of Argentina’s Super Étendard aircraft that carried the missiles.

When the incoming missiles came into view, officers on the bridge were “mesmerized” by the sight and did not broadcast a warning to the ship’s company.

The rest here

Farewell, Lion: headed to the great razor blade store in the sky (not Port Stanley)

171014-N-VC599-068 NORFOLK (Oct. 14, 2017) Lt. Michael Murmuys carries the last flag flown aboard afloat forward staging base (interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) during the ship’s decommissioning ceremony. The ship, commissioned in 1971, was the 12th and last ship in the Austin-class of amphibious transport dock ships. After being forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation for the past five years, the “Proud Lion” returned to her homeport in September for decommissioning and dismantling. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert/Released)

From the Navy’s presser:

Named for the Puerto Rican city of the same name, Ponce served mostly in the Atlantic Fleet, completing 27 deployments in the North Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.

Originally slated for decommissioning in 2011, the “Proud Lion” was refitted and reclassified, based on the USS Kitty Hawk’s (CV 63) role as an afloat special operation staging base during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. And, she was outfitted with a joint Navy – Military Sealift Command (MSC) crew.

Forward deployed for the past five years, the crew provided vital support to U.S. and allied forces in the U.S. 5th Fleet and Central Command, primarily during mine countermeasures operations, but also in international maritime command and control roles. In doing so, the crew launched, recovered and sustained multiple aircraft, riverine and other vessels. Their actions led to the ship and its crew being awarded the Combat Action Ribbon.

All points Falklands?

Contrary to some reports that had her going to Argentina, which caused heartburn in London, the 46-year-old Ponce now joins the inactive fleet and will be dismantled.

Why was that such a big deal?

Argentine Marines in Port Stanley, 1982. Members of the Buzco Tactico commando unit that landed and assaulted the (empty) Royal Marine barracks at Moody Brook outside of town, landed via small boats launched via LST. (Photo: Museo Naval de la Nación)

During the 1982 Falklands Islands War, the Argentine Navy used three new 10,000-ton Costa Sur-class light cargo ships and a 7,800-ton LST (ARA Cabo San Antonio) to invade the islands, with the latter transporting a mixed battalion of two Marine companies, an Army infantry unit, and 20 LVTP7 Amtracs in the initial attack and the cargo ships landing follow-on supplies to bolster the division-sized garrison.

Argentine Marines (Infantería de Marina) embark on ARA Cabo San Antonio, 1980s. Gotta love an LST when it comes to beach landings.

However, Cabo San Antonio was retired in 1997, leaving just the three cargo ships.

One of the trio, Bahia San Blas, has been converted since then to something akin to the amphibious cargo ships used in island hopping during WWII and has carried Argentine Army troops to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia on UN peacekeeping missions.

Bahia San Blas, note the 1940s surplus LCVPs on deck. She carries four, each of which is good for a light platoon. Current British garrison in the Falklands as part of British Forces South Atlantic Islands (BFSAI) is around 1,200

However, while Bahia San Blas can carry a couple hundred sea sick guys in sleeping bags, four LCVP’s on deck (or the Argentine Marine’s aging Amtracs) and containerized cargo, she lacks a dry well for larger landing craft or accommodation for helicopters, meaning she still needs a length of pier to unload and isn’t able to “kick in the door” in a serious amphibious assault with much more than a company-sized force.

Comment on the above from Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, and the prospect of the Argies getting Ponce: “At a time when the Argentine government still refuses to accept that UK sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not up for discussion, I would prefer if our friends such as the United States did not sell them a landing ship capable of launching helicopters and large numbers of troops.”

Warship Wednesday April 26, 2017: Always a bridesmaid

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 26, 2017: Always a bridesmaid

Here we see the fourth ship of the Colossus-class of British Royal Navy carriers, HMS Venerable (R63), in her final career as the Argentine carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (V-2). As you can tell from this statement, she would go on to change flags a few times and later serve as a very real threat to her original owners.

Venerable was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies, or remain on station in the South Atlantic (Falklands anyone?) or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

THE LAUNCHING OF HMS VENERABLE. 30 DECEMBER 1943, CAMMEL LAIRD’S YARD, BIRKENHEAD. THE LAUNCH OF THE 8,OOO TON AIRCRAFT CARRIER BY MRS HERBERT MORRISON. (A 21186) Men who helped build her watching the VENERABLE glide down the slipway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205153550

The hero of our tale, the fourth HMS Venerable in the RN since 1784 and the last hull to bear the name in that fleet, was laid down at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead on 3 December 1942 and launched just over a year later. Commissioned 17 January 1945, she was made flagship of the RN’s 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt, CB, CBE, commanding.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 27086) HMS VENERABLE steaming at moderate speed during her acceptance trials. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119935

HMS VENERABLE (FL 14300) Underway, at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205017364

Destined for service in the Far East where the war was expected to linger through 1946 or 1947, she was outfitted with an airwing of F4U Corsair fighters and Fairley Barracuda torpedo bombers of 814 and 1851 Squadrons and set off to join TF 37 of the US 3rd Fleet by way of the Med, which by early 1945 was quiet.

ON BOARD HMS VENERABLE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. APRIL 1945, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VENERABLE, FLAGSHIP OF THE 11TH AIRCRAFT CARRIER SQUADRON, IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 28673) Fire and rescue party, with mobile foam extinguisher, double to the rescue when a Chance-Vought Corsair, though its hook had caught the first wire, nearly spills over the side. In the background is the attendant destroyer the Italian ORIANI steaming alongside ready to pick up crashed air crews. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160011

ON BOARD HMS VENERABLE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. APRIL 1945, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VENERABLE, FLAGSHIP OF THE 11TH AIRCRAFT CARRIER SQUADRON, IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 28674) From the island in the background the Commanding Officer, Captain W A Dallmeyer, DSO, RN, and Commander Flying, Commander (F) J Borrett, RN, direct the take-off of a Hellcat 6-gun naval fighter. Above is the flag deck and below the starboard wing can be seen some of the aircraft handling party and aft the fire and crash party. As she carried Barracuda and Corsairs at the time, this could be a cross-decked Hellcat. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160012

WITH THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS VENGEANCE. MARCH AND APRIL 1945, IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. ACTIVITIES OF AIRMEN AND SISTER SHIPS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 28908) A sister carrier HMS VENERABLE off the coast of Tunisia on passage from Gibraltar to Malta. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160216

She arrived just in time to join with the carrier HMS Indomitable and the battleship HMS Anson to re-occupy Hong Kong in August 1945, followed by the re-occupation of Kowloon the next month. As far as I can tell, Venerable did not engage either German or Japanese forces in live combat during WWII.

October found her in Haiphong, French Indochina, picking up liberated Indian and Commonwealth prisoners of war to be repatriated home. November and December found her supporting Dutch efforts to reoccupy the Dutch East Indies before spending Christmas of 1945 in Freemantle, Australia. The next year saw her continuing her trooping efforts, shuttling refugees, displaced persons, and soon-to-be-mustered out servicemembers from Singapore to Hong Kong and other parts of the Far East, and bringing in fresh troops for garrison duty.

By February 14, 1947, after fleet exercises with the British Pacific Fleet, she set sail for Plymouth where she was laid up in May, having served just 29 months on active duty, mostly as a taxi service.

The British, flush with flattops, broke and at peace, began a clearance sale over the next several years. In the end, class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches. The Australians picked up Vengeance, Majestic and Terrible; the Canadians got Warrior (more on her later), Powerful and Magnificent; and India picked up Hercules.

On 1 April 1948, our still relatively new carrier, Venerable, was sold to the Royal Netherlands Navy, who commissioned her 28 May as HNLMS Karel Doorman (R-81), named after the famed Dutch admiral lost with his flagship light cruiser De Ruyter in WWII. She was the second, and last aircraft carrier of the Royal Netherlands Navy (their previous carrier, also after Doorman, was the former British escort carrier HMS Nairana.)

Dutch propaganda poster, depicting Admiral Karel Doorman and his flagship light cruiser De Ruyter

With the country fighting separatists in the Dutch East Indies and facing the always-curious Venezuelans in the Dutch West Indies, she was quickly given a topicalization that included boiler modifications and partial air conditioning and deployed along with the cruiser Jacob van Heemskerck and frigate Johan Maurits van Nassau to the Carribbean.

HNLMS Karel Doorman with former USN TBM-3E Avengers on deck

She carried a mix of 24 Fireflies and Sea Furies as her initial air wing. For rescue duties, a yellow Sea Otter was included, later replaced by an S-51 helicopter, called Jezebel. On the cruise was Prince Bernhard, who had a long history of military service and had racked up several thousand hours in combat aircraft.

(Bernard flying off the carrier later in life, in an S-2 Stoof in 1967)

From 1955-58, Venerable saw extensive modernization at Wilton-Feijenoord Shipyard in Holland. During this time, she was fitted with a new steam catapult, an 8-degree angled deck, mirror landing sight, new island, massive mast, and funnel, as well as ultra-modern radar equipment, air search, height search, target acquisition, navigation and carrier controlled approach radar systems. The latter produced by the electronic company Holland Signaal.

Her dated AAA guns were replaced by 10 Bofors 40mm/L70s. Her new air wing consisted of 14 anti-submarine Avengers, 10 Hawker Sea Hawks, and 2 S-55 helicopters and she acted as the flagship of Smaldeel V (Task Force 5) operating in the North Sea as part of NATO.

Hawker Sea Hawks and Avengers on Karl Doorman

With Indonesia rattling the sabers over West Papua New Guinea, the Dutch carrier embarked a dozen Hawker Hunters besides her airwing and went to the Far East again in 1960 until that crisis was settled through negotiations. The Indonesians had planned to sink her with a six-aircraft sortie of Tu-16KS-1 Badger bombers using a dozen AS-1 Kennel anti-ship missiles, which her Bofors likely would have been unable to counter. Again, the carrier avoided combat by the luck of the draw.

Colossus-class aircraft carrier HNLMS Karel Doorman (R81)

Marine Luchtvaart Dienst, ‘Kon Marine’, VSQ-4 ‘D’ CS2F-1’s S-2A’s aboard HNMLS Karel Doorman R81. Note her distinctive green deck

The crisis abated, she returned to the Atlantic and made another trip to the New World in 1962, her air wing modified for ASW-only missions with 8 Grumman S2F Trackers and 6 S-58 (H-34) helicopters along with a company of Dutch Marines.

Dutch Aircraft carrier HNLMS Karel Doorman in 1962; All Hands and remembrance ceremony in the Dardanelles; Royal Marine Corps Band marching towards bow

This is the English version of a film about the Dutch aircraft carrier Hr.Ms. Karel Doorman (R81). It shows everyday life onboard the aircraft carrier during the journey it made in 1962 to Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. The destroyers Hr.Ms. Groningen (D813) and Hr.Ms. Limburg (D814) joined her during this voyage:

In early 1968, the 23-year old carrier suffered a boiler room fire that extensively gutted her engineering spaces. The Dutch, defense budgets always slim, moved to replace her with land-based ASW aircraft and helicopters borne by surface combatants. She was stricken 29 April 1968, deemed not worth the repair.

Remember HMCS Warrior mentioned above? The Colossus-class carrier loaned to the Canadians? Well, the Canucks didn’t need so many carriers so they gave her back to the Brits who decommissioned the unmodified flattop in February 1958. Argentina, feeling outclassed by the purchase in 1956 by neighboring Brazil of the Colossus-class carrier Vengeance after the Australians were done with her– the first Latin American country to have a carrier– moved to pick up the Warrior from the UK which the commissioned as ARA Independencia (V-1) in July 1959.

ARA Independencia (V-1). She flew F4U-5s in 2′ Escuadrilla de Ataque. Colorized by Postales Navales

Independencia flew a wing of former USN F4U Corsairs, SNJ-5Cs Texans, and Grumman S2F-1Trackers but, with the Argentines looking to swap their aging Corsairs and Texans for jet-powered F9F Panthers, they needed an angled flight deck. This led them to purchase Venerable/Karel Doorman in crippled condition on 15 October 1968 and refurbish her as a cheaper option than giving Independencia the needed topside improvements to run jets.

Following a six-month repair at Rotterdam that saw her disabled boilers replaced by new ones transplanted from her incomplete sister ship HMS Leviathan, Venerable/Karel Doorman was commissioned into the Argentine Navy as ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (25 May– Argentina’s national day) (V-2) on 12 March 1969. For two years, on paper at least, Argentina had two carriers, though Independencia was soon withdrawn and by 1971 scrapped.

For the next 21-years, the Brazilian carrier Minas Gerais and the Argentine Veinticinco de Mayo— built as sister ships– were the yin and yang of Latina American carrier operations.

In 1971, Argentina bought 16 USN A-4B Skyhawks plus two for spare parts, then modified them with five weapon pylons and the ability to carry AIM-9B Sidewinders, creating A-4Q fighter bombers. These replaced the 1950s era F9F Panthers. Sea King ASW/SAR helicopters were added to the wing. Though it should be noted that in 1969 the Brits tested an early Harrier GR.1 on board her, which the Argentines declined to buy.

Argentina carrier 25 de Mayo along with the Gearing class destroyers Miguel Angel Gutierrez Barquin Al frente la 2da división de destructores (Espora, Brown y Rosales).

Note the Skyhawks. Colorized by Postales Navales.

With the Argentina military junta in charge in the late 1970s, the U.S. cut support to the country because of the fratricidal Dirty War, which made Veinticinco de Mayo‘s air wing increasingly hard to fly. The Argentines looked elsewhere and in 1978 negotiated a contract to buy 14 Dassault-Breguet Super Étendards and a quantity of air-launched Exocet anti-ship missiles from France. This came in conjunction with the surface-to-surface Exocet sales and France throwing in two corvettes, originally built for the apartheid Regime in South Africa. The corvettes, Good Hope and Transvaal, could not be delivered because of anti-apartheid embargoes. In Argentina, they were renamed ARA Drummond and ARA Guerrico.

The Argentine Navy, with their carrier in the forefront, moved to invade the Chilean islands of Picton, Nueva, and Lennox in the Beagle Channel in a territorial dispute in 1978, however, the junta reversed themselves before the conflict turned hot. Once more, our flattop did not fire a shot in anger.

Then came the Malvinas.

With just four Super Étendards (with five Exocets) and 10 A-4Qs operational in the Argentine Navy, the carrier made ready to sortie for that country’s push to retake the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in yet another dangerous territorial dispute. In April 1982, 35 years ago this month, she put to sea as the flagship of Carrier Task Force (CTF 79.1) tasked by the Naval High Command to support the invasion, codenamed Operation Azul.

Carrier ARA 25 de mayo (V-2) S2-Trackers, A4-Q Skyhawks, Aerospatiale Alouette. Note the camouflaged S-2. It should be noted the Etendards were not carrier certified until after the Falklands war.

Once the Brits mustered a task force to take the islands back,  25 de Mayo was ordered to sea to attack the arriving English carrier battle group, made up of the HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. With the two British carriers bristling with over 25 radar-equipped Sea Harriers armed with later model AIM-9L Sidewinders and surrounded by dozens of Sea Dart and Sea Wolf equipped escorts, the likelihood that the Argentine A-4s could have prosecuted a successful attack on the fleet was slim. Nonetheless, a strike was prepared and, with her S-2’s picking up the British fleet over the horizon, was only scrubbed at the last minute due to poor weather conditions. It would have been the first time since 1944 that a carrier v. carrier fleet action occured.

ARA Veinticinco de Mayo makes A-4 Skyhawk jets ready during the 1982 Falklands War note Invincible marked bomb

The image summarizes the deployment of Ar+Br naval forces around the Falklands Islands before the sinking of the ARA Belgrano during the Falklands War according to Ruben O. Moro with a hint that Middlebrook set the Argentine forces no more than 60-90 nautical miles from TEZ in opposite to Moro who set it further. Via Wiki

Further, once a British submarine sank the WWII light cruiser ARA General Belgrano (former USS Phoenix) with heavy loss of life on May 3, the Argentine Navy lacked the appetite to further risk their carrier. While her Skyhawks and Étendards made gallant and even successful strikes on British escorts and auxiliaries while flying from land at  Rio Grande over the next six weeks, Veinticinco de Mayo returned to port and remained there for the rest of the war, again not bathed in the blood of her enemies.

With the junta swept away after the Falklands War and military funding withering, the Argentines could put all their working French strike planes online but their carrier was increasingly restricted to port with bad engineering casualties. With her Skyhawks lost in 1982, her last air wing in her twilight years was 12 Etendards, six Grumman Tracker ASW aircraft, four SH-3D Sea King ASW and one utility helicopter.

Argentine carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo 25, A-4 forward, Etendards aft

Inoperable by 1990, the Brazilians were allowed to plunder her for parts to keep their own carrier at sea in exchange for granting Argentine carrier pilots a chance to tail hook on their neighbor’s ship to keep their qualifications up to date.

By 1997, Veinticinco de Mayo was officially decommissioned and towed to India in 2000 for scrapping. As for the Brazilians, they replaced her sister with the larger and slightly more modern French aircraft carrier Foch the same year.

All the Colossus/Majestic class carriers are now gone, with the Indian INS Vikrant/HMS Hercules, saved briefly as a museum ship, scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well traveled light carriers.

Oddly enough, the British Imperial War Museum has some Argentine relics of the Veinticinco de Mayo, an UZI submachine gun and FN FAL rifle captured in the Falklands that are Dutch-marked and believed to have transferred with the carrier to the “Argies” then subsequently used with that country’s Marines ashore in the Falklands.

Specs:

CV R81 Karel Doorman via shipbucket. Click to big up

Displacement

15,890 tons standard
17,500 tons normal
19,890 tons full load
Length:
630 ft. (190 m) between perpendiculars
695 ft. (212 m) overall
Beam:     80 ft. (24 m)
Draught:     24.5 ft. (7.5 m)
Speed:     25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) at 120 revolutions
Range:
12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
6,200 nautical miles (11,500 km; 7,100 mi) at 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)
Complement: 1,000 + 300 air group
Sensors and processing systems: (1982)
Air search: Lockheed SPS-40B; E/F band
Surface search: Plessey AWS 4; E/F band
Navigation: Signaal ZW06; I band
Fire control: 2 × SPG-34; I/J band
CCA: Scanter Mil-Par; I band
Aircraft
52 piston (as built)
20~ jets by 1958
Armament:
(As designed, 1942)
6 × 4-barrelled 2 pounder anti-aircraft guns
16 × twin 20 mm Oerlikon mountings
(1958)
10 × Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns (2 quads, 1 twin)
2 × 47 mm saluting guns

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The Harrier Carrier. It’s still a thing

harrier 68mm sneb rocket volley

When the Harrier jump jet became a real thing in the late 1960s, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1/GR.3 and the AV-8A were seen as being able to fight from primitive forward operating bases on the battlefield and help blunt the Soviet tank force should they come across the Fulda Gap or over the top into Norway (or for the Brits, against the Guatemalans in Belize or Argies in the Falklands).

harrierhide3

However, the benefit of using these V/STOL strike craft on abbreviated aircraft carriers without the need for catapults or arresting gear was soon evident.

In fact, it was tested out before the aircraft was even put into production.

The Hawker P-1127 (Harrier prototype) after landing successfully on HMS Ark Royal, 3 February 1962.

The Hawker P-1127 (Harrier prototype) after landing successfully on HMS Ark Royal, 3 February 1962.

In 1974, the Marines began the first shipboard trials on the helicopter assault ship USS Guam and two years later 14 AV-8A Harriers from Marine Attack Squadron 231 (VMA-231) “Ace of Spades” embarked aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) from 1976 to 1977 to prove the concept of integrating the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) Harrier into catapult and barrier configured carrier’s normal Air Wing operations.

harriers uss fdr franklin

Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt backed the concept of a cheaply built 13,000-ton Sea Control Ship that could be filled with a couple dozen Harriers and Sea King ASW helicopters at about the same time. Basically a 1970s update to the Jeep Carriers of WWII.

sea-control-ship

Heck, Zumwalt even wanted Harrier optimized Spruance-class destroyers in several different flavors, none of which ever got past the drawing board.

5847322839_80b4a4a790_z

through deck spruance vtol harrier destroyer aviationAs well as a modern battlecruiser based on a nuclear powered Virginia-class hull stretched to form an aviation capable “Strike Cruiser” that could accommodate 6 Harriers and 4 Sea Sprites/Hawks along with a full weapons suite.

strike cruiser harrier

Harriers on everything!

Even though Zum was replaced and a lot of his ideas (including building 100+ Pegasus-class hydrofoil missile boats!) went with him, the Harrier Carrier concept was growing.

In 1977, the Spanish Armada placed an order for a 15,000-ton ship based on Zumwalt’s concept which was commissioned in 1982 as Príncipe de Asturias capable of carrying 29 fixed-wing Harriers (“Matadors” in Spanish service) and rotary-wing aircraft. A larger 26,000-ton ship optimized for amphibious warfare, Juan Carlos I, was ordered in 2003.

Spanish Matadors on carrier Princip de Australias

Spanish Matadors on carrier Princip de Australias

The Royal Navy converted their last legacy carrier, HMS Hermes, with a 12-degree ski jump to help with rolling take-offs of the new Sea Harrier FRS.1 in 1980 while they ordered three specifically designed “carrier cruisers” as they were described at the time, the first of which, HMS Invincible, was commissioned 11 July 1980.

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class Britsh Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class British Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

The British Harrier carriers proved able to do the job in a pinch (see= Falkand Islands).

For further example, in September 1995, just eight FA.2 Sea Harriers from 800 NAS aboard HMS Invincible commenced operations over Serb-held positions in Sarajevo. Over the next ten days, they flew 24 bombing sorties, 42 combat air patrols, and 28 reconnaissance missions, for a sortie rate of 11.75 flights per day, every day for a week and a half, with just eight airframes.

Invincible-class harrier carrier HMS Illustrious late in her career with about the maximum loadout of these hulls: 12 Harriers and 7 Westland Sea King AEW/ASW helicopters. 

Then came others

India began operating its INS Vikrant with Sea Harriers in 1983 later joined by the retired Hermes (as INS Viraat).

The 13,000-ton Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) came off the ways in 1985, picked up her first Harriers in 1991, and was joined by the nearly twice as large Cavour in 2009.

Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) with Italian AV-8Bs

Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) with Italian AV-8Bs

Harrier carriers ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi, left, and ESPS Príncipe Asturias, right, flanking the conventional CATOBAR French carrier Foch, center. 

Thailand’s 11,000-ton HTMS Chakri Naruebet, based on the final U.S. Navy blueprints for a dedicated sea control ship but with the addition of a ski-jump ramp, was commissioned in 1997– flying a handful of Spanish surplus AV-8S Matadors.

Plus of course, all five Tarawa-class and eight Wasp-class LHA/LHDs of the U.S. Navy were designed so they could operate as dedicated Sea Control Ships when needed. This was validated when some 20 AV-8Bs of VMA-331 operated from USS Nassau (LHA-4) in support of Operation Desert Storm, flying 240 combat sorties and dropping 900 bombs.

In all, between May 1976 when USS Tarawa (LHA-1) was commissioned and 2005 when Invincible was taken out of service, no less than 22 Harrier Carriers or their equivalents were built, converted, or building for six navies around the world.

That was the peak.

Since then those numbers have been trimmed as all of the Invincibles and Tarawas, Vikrant and Hermes/Viraat, as well as Príncipe de Asturias, have been decommissioned. Currently, there are but 13 hulls afloat designed to operate these aircraft, which themselves are dwindling and are getting smaller in number every week.

The Harrier was withdrawn from both RN and Thai service in 2006.

The Indians hung up their last jump jet this May.

The Italians still have 16 operational AV-8B/TAV-8Bs they operate from their two carriers and they are very active. For instance, 8 Italian Harriers flying from Garibaldi dropped 160 guided bombs during 1221 flight hours over Libya in 2011.

The Spanish have 13 EAV-8B+/TAV-8Bs capable of operations from Juan Carlos I, though maintenance on these older aircraft is reportedly a problem.

The 2016 Marine Aviation Plan carries 84 AV-8Bs airframes to produce 66 RBA Harriers in 6 operational and one replacement squadron. This is to reduce to 80 aircraft/5 operational squadrons in FY17, 64/4 by FY21, 48/3 in FY22,  32/2 in FY23, 16/1 in FY24 and drop altogether by FY27.

USMC Harriers will be replaced by the F-35C, in theory, by then for which the new LHA-6 class ships will be optimized for.

But speaking of Marine AV-8Bs from their dedicated sea control/amphib ships, they are still getting the job done.

Withness this video last week from USS Boxer (LHD-4) with Harriers of VMA-214 (Blacksheep) assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), launching missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, joining strike aircraft operating from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Mediterranean Sea.

“These missions from the flight decks of USS Boxer, like those from the USS Harry S. Truman, demonstrate the inherent flexibility of naval forces,” said Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

“Today, U.S. naval forces are striking ISIL simultaneously from both the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. Of course, the engine of this effort is our nation’s Sailors and Marines serving with the USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit; they, together with our joint and coalition partners, are dismantling and rolling back terrorist networks in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere,” said Donegan.

Here are some beautiful shots of AV-8Bs aboard Boxer.

Just keeping it real.

VMA-214 Blacksheep AV-8B Harrier on USS Boxer, photo by Staff Sgt. Naquan Peterson

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166 sits on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Arabian Sea Oct. 20, 2013. The Boxer was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Michael Schwartz, U.S. Navy/Released)

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166 sits on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Arabian Sea Oct. 20, 2013. The Boxer was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Michael Schwartz, U.S. Navy/Released)

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