Saturday, September 12, 2015
Book Review: Air War in the Falklands 1982
Air War in the Falklands 1982
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2001
Category: Aviation History
This was the 28th installment in Osprey's long-running series of slim, paperback summaries of the major air wars of the past half century. True to form, it is filled with photographs and its fair share of aircraft profile views - although with fewer color photographs than some of the other books in this series.
The Falklands War is one of those often forgotten chapters in air warfare that tends to be under-reported in modern literature. I personally remember vividly the events of those days: the news reports of Argentina's invasion; the resolve of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; the extraordinary long-range bombing sorties carried out by British Vulcan bombers; and of course the loss of the British destroyer Sheffield to an Exocet missile. I am therefore often surprised to discover that so many of today's youth remain totally ignorant of the Falklands War, or its lessons for modern air combat.
Christopher Chant has assembled the essential details behind the conduct of this air war into a single, small volume. One of the first things that any reader should be struck with, is that the Argentine Air Force did not give up this fight lightly. There is a misconception often projected that the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots sustained uncontested air superiority throughout this conflict. The reality, however, is a little more complicated.
The British had been supplied with all-aspect AIM-9L missiles directly from U.S. stockpiles - correcting for an oversight on the part of the British Ministry of Defense, which had previously elected not to stockpile the new Sidewinder version as a cost cutting measure. The ability of the newer generation Sidewinder to provide the British fighters with a head-on intercept capability gave the British fighters an enormous tactical advantage. Despite this advantage, however, the British Harrier fleet was stretched thin to cover such a vast expanse of ocean, and Argentine fighter-bombers succeeded in scoring direct hits on multiple British warships.
Despite heavy losses, the Argentine fighter-bombers kept coming, ultimately sinking the Sheffield (a destroyer), the Ardent (a British frigate), and the Coventry (another destroyer). Other British warships were also struck, but in a number of instances the Argentine bomb fuses were improperly set and failed to detonate. Had those bombs gone off as intended, the British losses could have been much higher.
The Falklands War was no stroll in the park. Despite the advantages in training and equipment that the British armed forces enjoyed, the Falklands were still half a world away, and the Argentine air force put up a stout resistence. To this day, British sovereignty over the Falklands is still officially contested by the Argentine government. This is a war with many lessons on the importance, and limitations of carrier-borne air power that will continue to haunt war planners for decades to come.