RAF drew up plans to bomb Argentina during Falklands War

Vulcan bomber - Martin Cleaver/PA
Vulcan bomber – Martin Cleaver/PA

The Royal Air Force drew up plans to bomb bases in the Argentinian homeland and fly back via Hawaii during the Falklands War, newly uncovered documents have revealed.

Bombing Argentina itself was a controversial idea at the time, with debate in the British Cabinet as to whether it would be legal and doubts over its strategic and diplomatic effect.

The documents show detailed planning for an RAF raid against Argentina using an Avro Vulcan bomber to attack airfields in the far south of the country.

The solitary bomber would depart from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic and be refuelled mid-air multiple times on its way south.

The documents, uncovered by Aviation Historian magazine, showed three possible routes home, including landing in Chile and then either returning to Ascension by flying over northern Argentina, or heading to the UK via Easter Island, Tahiti, Hawaii, the United States and Canada.

The latter route, despite its length, would have been the least logistically complicated as it would not have required mid-air refuelling for the return legs.

By the time the plans were drawn up, on May 24, 1982, the RAF had already had success in bombing targets on the Falkland Islands with Operation Black Buck — at the time the longest bombing raids in history.

The strategic and tactical value of bombing airfields in Argentina would have been debatable. Sir Lawrence Freedman, the official historian of the Falklands campaign, told The Telegraph: “It would have been extremely hazardous, required a lot of aircraft and might not have achieved very much.”

The RAF plans, found in the National Archives by Aviation Historian, a quarterly journal, expected the mission to require anywhere between 11 and 13 Handley Page Victor aircraft to refuel the Vulcan.

These aircraft were also needed for supporting Britain’s Cold War anti-submarine patrols in the north Atlantic, placing limits on their availability.

Royal Marines - Imperial War Museums
Royal Marines – Imperial War Museums

The political ramifications of such a raid were also unpredictable. The attorney general at the time, Sir Michael Havers, later Lord Havers, was believed to have opposed any attack on Argentina itself.

Undertaking such an operation would have been fraught with diplomatic risk. British aircraft were unable to cross Brazilian, Paraguayan or Uruguayan airspace but just two weeks after the plans were drawn up, a Vulcan taking part in the sixth Black Buck raid was forced to land in Rio de Janeiro after its refuelling probe broke.

The Vulcan was carrying secret, US-supplied anti-radar missiles, one of which remained stuck on the aircraft despite efforts to jettison it at sea. Britain had to negotiate with Brazil’s military junta for the aircrew’s release, while pressure was placed on the Brazilian government not to reveal the secret of the missile or that Washington was supporting British efforts.

Documents from the war released in 2012 under 30-year secrecy rules showed that Downing Street had looked into the diplomatic impact of any bombing raids on Argentina and feared that they might “gravely damage” international support for the UK.

While the attacks were ultimately never given the go-ahead, the Argentinian government did fear the possibility of strikes at home, following Operation Black Buck, said Sir Lawrence, and as a result held back some of its most capable fighter jets to defend its home bases.

That helped British forces in their efforts to secure control of the skies over the islands and to provide close air support to soldiers and marines on the ground.

Published by anthonyhayble

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