Sea Harrier FRS1: Operation Corporate

Sea Harrier FRS1: Operation Corporate


Lt. Commander Andy Auld’s FRS.1 (XZ499) 800 NAS at HMS SHEATHBILL [Port San Carlos] in June 1982i

The 14,000 lb aircraft was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Mk 104 Pegasus vector thrust turbofan, generating 21,500 lbs of static thrust.ii The aircraft could accelerate to Mach 1.25 (600) knots in a dive. Armed with 2 30 mm ADEN gun pods (200 rounds), with options for cluster bombs (600 lb) or rocket pods (2 inch) and 5,000-8,000 lbs of payload including AIM-9L “Sidewinder” IR missiles.iii Harriers were flown by NAS Nos 800, 801, 809 and (HQ, training) 899.iv 899 NAS had previously been 700A Intensive Flying Trials Unit at RNAS Yeovilton. Harrier trials had been conducted as early as August 1969, when the first Harrier landings were made aboard HMS Blake. Operational trials were carried out a decade later in 1979.v In March 1980 the newly formed 899 (HQ) squadron possessed 6 In 1998 FRS.Mk 1s were operating with NAS 800 and 801, in addition to 899 squadron.vii

General Leopoldo Galtieri’s military junta government declared “that 1982 would be ‘The Year of the Malvinas’” clarifying beyond a doubt the Argentine intention to settle the Falklands question.viii On 31 March 1982 intelligence was received “indicating that an Argentine Task Force” was heading towards the Falklands.ix


Hermes, Centaur class,in May 1981. Note NAS 800 Harriers at stern.x

The Falkland Islands in addition to South Georgia, were invaded on the night of 1/2 April 1982.xi HMS Invincible was placed on alert on April 2.xii Argentine bank assets in Britain were frozen on April 3.xiii A rapid series of events followed, beginning with the establishment of the shipping Exclusion Zone on April 5. The “Zone”- termed as such to avoid the wartime connotations of “blockade” – was established for 200 miles around the islands.

Task Force 317, under overall command of Admiral Fieldhouse, was composed of three distinct naval components: CTG 317.8 (Carrier Battle Group, RA Woodward), CTG 317.0 (Amphibious Task Group, Commodore Clapp), CTG 317.1 (Landing Force, Brigadier Thompson).xiv Submarines were operated under the separate command of Task Force 324.xv

During the Falklands War the Fleet Air Arm operated 20 FRS Harriers, squadrons aboard HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible.xvi RAF No. 1 Squadron GR3s also operated from Hermes.xvii In combat, 28 Harriers flew 2,197 sorties, resulting in 23 shoot-downs.xviii No 800 NAS and 899 (Hermes) flew 1,126 sorties and launched 14 AIM-9L sidewinders (only two of which missed their targets).xix No 801 and elements of 809 NAS were stationed aboard Invincible.xx

On 1 May 1982 seven aircraft were brought down by Sea Harriers for no losses.xxi The case of 1 May provides a startling example of the Harrier’s combat capability and the skill of the NAS and RAF operators. That afternoon, RAF Flight Lieutenant Paul Barton (801 Sqd.) and Lieutenant Commander John Eyton-Jones in two Harriers were on combat air patrol westward of the Task Force at 15,000 feet when HMS Invincible reported an enemy flight of six aircraft approaching, although this and another force aborted their attacks after firing several radar guided anti-air missiles and a resulting dog-fight.xxiii The flight was intercepted by a pair of Harriers flown by Lts Hale and Penfold. Penfold was able to attack and destroy Dagger C-433 with an AIM-9.xxiv

Dave Smith

Lt Dave Smith landing ZA193/93 on Hermes after destroying Dagger (C410 of Grupo 6) […] with his port AIM-9L Sidewinder on 24 May 1982”xxv ( 9 IAI Daggers were downed by Sea Harriers.xxii )

The major engagement of 1 May occurred when the FAA (Argentine Air Force) launched a coordinated attack with 20 aircraft. The first elements (a pair of Mirage IIIEAs from Grupo 8 flown by Captain Garcia Cuerva and Lieutenant Carlos Perona) were intercepted by Barton and wingman Lieutenant Steve Thomas (XZ452 and XZ453).xxvi xxvii Barton downed Perona (later recovered by the FAA) with an AIM 9, while Thomas chased Cuerva, damaging the latter’s aircraft with an AIM 9.xxviii Cuerva was unfortunately killed in a friendly fire incident as he returned to base.xxix The next day Thomas downed two Daggers, beginning the legend of the Harrier as Black Death: La Muerte

The same day, 9 Harriers carrying thousand lb bombs attacked Stanley Airport in support of the ‘Black Buck’ Vulcan raids.xxxi Harriers from Hermes and Invincible were launched against Stanley Airport and dropped thousand lb and cluster bombs.xxxii Dave Stanley’s NAS 800 Harrier (ZA192) was hit by 20mm flak as he overflew the airport on 1 May.xxxiii Nigel “Sharkey” Ward, commander No. 801 NAS, has critiqued the Vulcan missions, each of which required 18 refuelling missions flown by 12 aircraft and 130,000 gallons of fuel “sufficient to fly 260 Sea Harrier missions… dropping 1,300 bombs.”xxxiv


IAI Dagger (Dassault Mirage 5) flown by Argentine Air Force.xxxv

The next day, 2 May 1982 HMS Conquerer torpedoed the ARA General Belgrano. On 4 May the FAA launched a pair of Super Etendards armed with 2 of Argentina’s 5 air capable Exocet missiles against the Task Force, resulting in the fatal strike against HMS Sheffield.xxxvi


Sheffield after Exocet strike.xxxvii

Retaliation attacks by Vulcan and Harrier aircraft was organized on 4 May. It was during this operation that Lt Nick Taylor, in XZ450 was hit and killed by AA. The attack was carried out by the remaining aircraft, ZA192 (cluster bombs) and XZ460 (1,000 lb bombs).xxxviii On 9 May, four Harriers, including XZ460 and ZA191 bombed and strafed the Argentine trawler Narwhal.xxxix On 10-11 May attacks were carried out by NAS 800 against the Stanley airfield: due to the Roland missiles defending the airport, bombs could only be dropped at 18,000 feet and were generally inaccurate.xl On 15 May the Argentine supply ship Rio Carcarana was spotted near Port King, and was attacked by Harriers XZ459 and XZ494, resulting in the ships abandonment.xli A similar fate met the Bahia Buen Suceso docked at Fox Bay and attacked by Harriers XZ500 and ZA191.xlii

On 18 May Atlantic Conveyer arrived carrying 4 FRS aircraft (No 809 NAS) and 4 GR.3s (No 1 RAF, of which two more aircraft arrived shortly afterwards).xliii


GR3 and FRS1 comparison.xliv

In a series of events known as “Bomb Alley” to the British, and “Death Valley” to the Argentines, the Ardent was sunk on May 21 by Skyhawks A-4Q0660 and A4Q0665 (A-4Q0660 was destroyed by XZ457’s AIM-9 launch and A-4Q0665’s pilot was forced to eject as a result of cannon hits).xlv Another Skyhawk in the area, A-4Q0667 was downed by cannon fire from Harrier XZ500.xlvi The sinking of the Ardent was a result of the Argentine attempt to disrupt Operation Sutton, the landing at Port San Carlos. During this operation, several waves of Dagger and Skyhawk aircraft attacked the Task Force. Patrolling Harriers XZ492 and XZ496 intercepted three Skyhawks and downed two of them. XZ455 and ZA176, launched in support, caught four incoming Daggers and destroyed C-409.xlvii

The Antelope was sunk on May 23, the same day Hermes CAP ZA192 and ZA191 intercepted a helicopter resupply force enroute from Port Stanley to Port Howard.xlviii The Coventry & Atlantic Conveyor were destroyed on May 25. The day before three Daggers were downed by Harriers XZ457 and ZA193.xlix Terrible losses were also inflicted upon the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad on June 8 when they were attacked by eight Skyhawks and five Daggers.l Three Skyhawks were downed by AIM-9s and cannon by ZA177 and XZ499 in the evening of June


Coventry hit fatally by three 1,000 lb bombs.lii

Lastly the Fearless was destroyed on June 8. Of these losses, the Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor were destroyed by Exocets fired from FAA Super-Etendard 3-A-203.liii The loss of Atlantic Conveyor was particularly disastrous as not only had 10 Harriers been scrambled to intercept, but the Conveyor also carried the lion’s share of the Chinook helicopters required for the Commando heavy lift for land operations.liv The Argentines claimed to have scored an Exocet hit upon HMS Invincible, in addition to several bomb hits, on 30 May 1982, though Invincible sustained no damage that The majority of damage inflicted upon the Task Force was the result of A-4 Skyhawk attacks with conventional munitions. Skyhawk kills included the Ardent, Antelope and the Coventry. In total the 48 Skyhawks possessed by Argentina sank “a destroyer, two frigates and two landing ships” though at the steep and unacceptable price of 22 planes.lvi


Hermes returns to Portsmouth, 21 July 1982lvii

The campaign to liberate the islands was concluded by 14 June with the surrender of the Island’s garrison.lviii Two Harrier pilots were killed in combat operations. XZ450, 800 NAS stationed on HMS Hermes, pilot Lieutenant Nick Taylor, was shot down by 35mm gunfire 4 May 1982.lix Lt Cdr Batt was killed when ZA192 crashed on take-off in late May.lx 

For their part, the FAA’s 14 Super Etendards sank two RN ships for no losses (Gunston, ed., The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes, p 106). The success of the carriers at the Falklands demonstrated the value of naval aviation for the Royal Navy: all the more significant considering the pre-Falkland RN cutbacks (Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century, London: Frank Cass, 2004, p 194), p 273

ii Kev Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2009, p 311

iiiDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 311-3, 246; Bill Gunston, ed., The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes, Etobicoke, Ontario: Prospero Books, 1998, p 77

ivDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 313

v Longstaff, The Fleet Air Arm, p 240-1

viReginald Longstaff, The Fleet Air Arm: A Pictorial History, London: Robert Hale Ltd., 1981, p 242

viiGunston, ed., The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes, p 77

viii J. F. Woodward & Patrick Robinson, One Hundred Days; The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992, p 68

ix Lawrence Freedman, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, vol., 2, New York: Taylor & Francis Inc., 2005, p 3

x John Jordan, An Illustrated Guide to Modern Naval Aviation and Aircraft Carriers, London: Salamander Books Ltd., 1983, p 40-1

xi Finnis, Airlife – History of the Fleet Air Arm, p 162

xiiADM 53/189407, Ships log of HMS Invincible, 2 April 1982. National Archives, p 8

xiii Freedmen, Official History, vol 2, p 92

xiv Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century, London: Frank Cass, 2004, p 194

xvDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 243

xvi Bill Finnis, Airlife – History of the Fleet Air Arm – From Kites to Carriers, Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2000, p 166

xviiIan Speller, “Limited War and Crisis Management: Naval Aviation in Action from the Korean War to the Falklands Conflict,” in British Naval Aviation: The First 100 Years, edited by Tim Benbow, 151–76, Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies Series, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2011, p 171

xviii Speller, “Limited War and Crisis Management” p 171

xix Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 263, 244

xxDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 245

xxiDavid Hobbs, “The Empire Strikes Back: The Battle of the Falklands in 1914 and the Falklands War of 1982” in Dreadnought to Daring, edited by Peter Hore, 358–72, Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2012, p 363

xxiii Christopher Chant, Air War in the Falklands: 1982, Osprey Combat Aircraft 28, Botley Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001, p 43-5

xxiv Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 248

xxv Andy Evans, The British Aerospace Sea Harrier, Bedford, UK: SAM Publications, 2007, p 23

xxvi Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 264

xxvii Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 45-7

xxviii Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 47

xxix Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 48

xxx Wragg, A Century of British Naval Aviation, p 183

xxxiSpeller, “Limited War and Crisis Management” p 172

xxxii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 247

xxxiii David Wragg, A Century of British Naval Aviation, 1909-2009, Pen and Sword, 2009, p 182; Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 248

xxxiv Speller, “Limited War and Crisis Management” p 172; see Nigel Ward, Sea Harrier over the Falklands, London: Orion Books, 1993, p 183-6; Wragg, A Century of British Naval Aviation, p 183

xxxvi Freedman, Official History, vol 2, p 259

xxxviii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 251

xxxix Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 251

xl Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 251

xliDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 252

xliiDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 252

xliii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 252

xliv Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 17-8

xlv Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 255

xlvi Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 255

xlvii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 255

xlviii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 256

xlix Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 258-9

l Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 260

liDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 260

liii Salvador Huertas, “Super Etendard in the Falklands” in Wings of Fame: The Journal of Classic Combat Aircraft, vol., 8, London: Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1997, p 25

livDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 259

lv Huertas, “Super Etendard in the Falklands” p 29

lvi Salvador Huertas & David Donald, “A-4 Skyhawk in the Falklands” in Wings of Fame: The Journal of Classic Combat Aircraft, vol., 12, London: Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1998, p 29

lviii Alexander and Malcolm Swanston, Atlas of Air Warfare, Victoria, Australia: Hinkler Books Pty Ltd, 2009, p 212

lix James Spirit & Martin Paul, “One of Our Aircraft is Missing,” 27 Jan 2005 <>

lxDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 257-8