Tag Archives: SAS

Operation Tornado ’82

The naval combat in the Falklands War of 1982 was hugely influential for today’s fleets as it reinforced just how hard modern ASW is, underlined the relevance of light aircraft carriers (England was set to dispose of them before the conflict), pointed out the danger of aluminum superstructures (although this is now falling on deaf ears it seems), and highlighted the nightmare of fighting even laughable quantities of anti-ship missiles.

Another thing it did was point out that naval gunfire support for ground combat troops operating in the littoral was still very relevant.

With the British deploying two light brigades (3 Commando and 5 Guards including three Royal Marine Commando battalions, two Para battalions, and a battalion of the Scots Guards, another of the Welsh Guards, and a Gurkha battalion) to retake the islands from upwards of 10,000 Argentines, the Brits had very little in the way of organic artillery the task force was able to bring with them 8,000 miles south.

While the Argies had access to modern 155mm guns, the Brits were handicapped with only five batteries of 105mm light howitzers (three from 29 Commando and two from 4th Field Artillery) which, with a precious handful of helicopters on hand, were slow to move forward to support the front line.

For instance, in one operation against Goose Green, where the Argentines had 30 guns emplaced and well-supplied, just 12 RN Sea King sorties were allocated to move artillery forward enabling 28 British artillerymen, three guns, and 1,000 shells to stage for the battle.

Likewise, the 40 or so Harriers flying from two carriers offshore had their hands full with attempting to secure local air superiority and could divert precious few sorties to support the Marines, Paras, and Guards ashore.

That’s where the assorted 4.5-inch Mark 8 and QF Mark VI naval guns of the British task force’s eight gun-armed destroyers and nine gun-armed frigates came in.

Chilean Frigate Almirante Condell (PFG-06) working her 4.5″/45 (11.4 cm) QF Mark VI in 1999. Two Leander frigates were built by Yarrows in Scotland for the Chilean Navy during the 1970s. The twin 4.5 is of the same type mounted on two RN frigates— HMS Yarmouth and HMS Plymouth– during the Falklands, each firing about 1K rounds during the short war. U.S. Navy Photograph No. 990705-N-5862D-001.

4.5″/55 (11.4 cm) Mark 8 Mod 0 on HMS St. Albans F83. Royal Navy Photograph. The Mark 8 was fitted to most of the gun-armed British frigates and destroyers in the Falklands.

Capable of delivering a 55-pound HE shell to targets up to 18,000 yards away (24,000 for the longer Mark 8), they also had a very high rate of fire, with even the older guns capable of 12-14 rounds per minute. With these small warships (most of the frigates hit 2,500-3,250 tons while the destroyers only went about 5,000) often still able to carry 800 to 1,000 shells in their magazines and able to operate in as little as five fathoms of seawater, they were called inshore to deliver the goods.

At Goose Green, HMS Arrow (F173) fired 22 pre-dawn Mk 8 star shells and 135 rounds of 4.5-inch HE in the course of a 90-minute bombardment. She would have fired more had her gun not jammed and put her out of action.

Dubbed Operation Tornado by the Royal Navy, individual frigates and destroyers were soon dispatched on nightly gun runs to plaster Argentine positions with harassment and interdiction fire (H&I) then fall back to the relative safety of deep water during the day. In their mission, they received shot correction from buried and heavily camouflaged commando patrols from SAS and SBS as well as ANGLICO teams from 148 Battery. Slated for disbandment just before the Falklands, the 30 or so gunners and observers of 148 (Meiktila) Battery Royal Artillery proved invaluable, calling very accurate fire down on Argentine bunkers, trenches, and guns.

At first, the “strafe” would only send less than 200 rounds downrange but this would soon double and even triple, with as many as 750 shells being the norm three weeks into the campaign.

One Argentine remembered after the war:

We were very demoralized at that time because we felt so helpless. We couldn’t do anything. The English were firing at us from their frigates and we couldn’t respond.

HMS Yarmouth (F101), an older modified Type 12 frigate laid down in 1957, fired over 1,000 shells from her main guns (twin 4.5s), mostly during shore bombardment that included supporting the Scots Guards during the Battle of Mount Tumbledown.

The Royal Navy Rothesay-class frigate HMS Yarmouth (F101) underway during the Falklands War on 5 June 1982. Yarmouth´s unofficial nickname was “The Crazy Y”. CC via Wikipedia

Her sister ship, the circa-1958 HMS Plymouth (F126) fired 909 4.5 inch shells and was the first British warship to enter liberated Port Stanley harbor.

In one harassment mission of Port Stanley’s airport, the destroyer HMS Cardiff (D108) fired 277 shells.

Besides shore bombardment runs, the frigate HMS Alacrity (F174) used her 4.5-inch gun to engage and sink the 3,000-ton Argentine supply ship ARA Isla de los Estados, which blew up after a hit ignited her cargo of jet fuel and ammunition. Likewise, Yarmouth intercepted and engaged the Argentine coaster ARA Monsunen with her twin 4.5 guns west of Lively Island, driving her aground.

These offshore bombardment missions also enabled the RN to set up Mirage/Skyhawk traps by taking a Type 42 destroyer delivering NGFS ashore and adding a Type 22 frigate to it which stood a further 10-20 miles out to sea. The idea was that the Type 42’s 4.5-incher would bring out an Argentine airstrike the next morning, which would be downed by the combined Sea Dart/Sea Wolf missiles of the two warships. This was known as a Type 64 group and was credited with bagging at least two Argentine Sky Hawks.

The missions, close to shore, proved dangerous. On 12 June 1982, the destroyer HMS Glamorgan (D19) was attacked with an MM38 Exocet missile, fired from an improvised shore-based launcher just after she supported the Royal Marines’ capture of the Two Sisters hill outside of Stanley. The Exocet claimed 14 of Glamorgan’s crew.

Nonetheless, the mission continued.

The frigate HMS Ambuscade (F172), according to her war diary, fired 58 rounds in the area of Port Stanley airfield on 30 May, went back for a second run on the night of 7/8 June during which she fired 104 shells. On the night of 13 June, the frigate fired 228 4.5-inch shells in support of 2 Para’s assault of Wireless Ridge in company with fellow tin cans HMS Active (220 rounds fired) and HMS Avenger (100 rounds fired). Not bad considering Ambuscade suffered from a cracked hull and broken stabilizers throughout the war.

Sadly, the only British civilian casualties of the Falklands War came from naval bombardment, with the frigate HMS Avenger (F185) landing shells on a residence just outside Argentine-occupied Port Stanley, killing three locals and wounding several others. The forward observer had not been aware of their presence in the area and, in post-war analysis, it was found that the ships’ gun beacon MIP radar malfunctioned and was set on the wrong datum.

4.5″/55 (11.4 cm) Mark 8 Mod 0 on HMS Avenger F185 in January 1992. U.S. Navy Photograph No. DN-SC-92-04971.

In all, some 8,000 4.5-inch shells were fired by Royal Navy escorts during the two-month Falklands Islands conflict, compared to some 17,000 105mm shells lit off by the Army’s gunners. In many cases, the larger naval shells, fitted with proximity fuses that detonated them 10 yards off the deck rather than after they were buried in the soggy sub-polar moss of the Falklands landscape, were considered more effective. 

Still, the lesson was learned and the Batch 3 Type 22 frigates, constructed after the Falklands, were designed to carry 4.5-inch guns whereas their preceding classmates were missile-only. Further, instead of disbanding, the elite forward observers of 148 Battery are still very much active as part of the Commando Gunners of 29 Commando.

Importantly, the Royal Navy today still mounts 4.5s on all of their frigates and destroyers– a factor the U.S. Navy, with its preference for a 57mm main gun on everything smaller than an Aegis destroyer, could probably learn from.

For more information on artillery used in the Falklands, see the relevant section in Firepower in Limited War by Robert Scales and the 27-page scholarly paper Under Fire: The Falklands War and the Revival of Naval Gunfire Support by Steven Paget.

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.

Australian SAS belt kit, as worn in Vietnam by Don Barnaby, F Troop, 2 Sqn SASR

Description via AWM:

A composite webbing set, consisting of standard US pattern waist belt, metal buckle and ‘H’ harness suspender. The suspender has been modified with the addition of five nylon webbing M79 40 mm grenade pouches, cut from a US Air Force survival vest, which are attached vertically down each front suspender strap. A blackened round brass press button secures each grenade pouch cover.

Worn at the back of the belt is a large Australian 1937 Pattern basic canvas pouch and a British 1944 Pattern water bottle and carrier. In place of the standard Australian issue basic pouches at the front are twin US Special Forces M16 5.56 mm magazine pouches and two compass pouches, one containing insect repellent.

Attached to the 1937 Pattern pouch is another compass pouch, containing another insect repellent container and inside the pouch is a field dressing. The webbing set has been hand camouflaged by adding random blotches of green and black paint. A US issue plastic M6 bayonet scabbard is also attached.

Photograph from the Australian War Memorial, and is their property and copyright. They have a great collection of his gear on hand.

2 SQN, SASR packing list 1971,from “Vietnam ANZACs” Kevin Lyles, Osprey Publishing, 2004:

Equipment carried by each patrol member:

Weapon and ammunition, to include at least two XM148/203 and two L1A1 SLR per patrol

Compass & Map
Emergency/survival pack
Shell dressing (FFD)
Emergency smoke containers x 2
Water containers

The following to be carried on the belt or in pockets, not in pack:

UHF radio (secured by cord)
Individual sheath knife
Shell dressings (FFD)
Ammunition (except Claymores)
Smoke grenades

Ammunition, minimum scales per man (weapon dependent)
7.62mm 160 rounds
5.56mm 200 round
40mm HE & Canister x 10
40mm purple smoke x 2
M34/M67 x 1

Grenades (per patrol)
Red Smoke x 5
Yellow smoke x 5

Australian SAS captain Peter Shilston as Mike Force company commander–note the WWII-style BAR belt used for 20 round M16 mags and tiger camo

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.

SAS legend Barry Davies dies

Barry Davies

Barry Davies (right) briefs the UK Minister for Defence Procurement, Philip Dunne MP, at last year’s DSEI event in London

Barry Davies, BEM, the former British Special Air Service commando who was decorated for the part he played in Operation Feuerzauber (“Fire Magic”) the successful GSG9 hostage rescue operation of Lufthansa Flight 181 at Mogadishu Airport in 1977, passed away Monday.

Shrewsbury-born Barry Davies was in service with the SAS for 18 years and saw active duty in the Middle East, Africa and Northern Ireland. During that time he assisted in forming the first counter-terrorist team and was awarded the British Empire Medal for the storming of Lufthansa Flight 181 which was hijacked on 13 October 1977 by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

After leaving the Special Air Service Regiment, he joined Cardiff-based survival and protective equipment specialists, BCB International Ltd. There he worked on numerous special projects which in recent years included the development and market introduction of surveillance Unmanned Air Systems.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Barry’s wife, Mary, and their family at this difficult time,” said BCB Managing Director Andrew Howell in a statement. “Everyone here at BCB International is shocked at the sad news.  For over 30 years, Barry was a popular and hugely respected member of the team.  For Barry, being able to help design and refine life-saving equipment used by our brave servicemen and women was not a ‘job’ but a labour of love.  He will be sorely missed by everyone here at BCB.”

Davies taught survival, escape, and evade skills to aircrews and special operations for two years of his service in the SAS as shown in this vintage vid.

SAS Raiders of the Falklands War

War nerd confession: I’ve always thought the Falklands campaign was fascinating. Its one of the few instances where two western militaries have fought each other in all-out combined war in land sea and air in modern times. Found this pretty neat 45-min. documentary on the SAS and SBS in the Falkland Islands War (1982). Includes interesting and such little-known stuff as the Top Malo house fight, the covert SAS/SBS intel teams in Argentina itself, the Pebble Island Raid, and others.