Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Now when we consider the RAF's global role, perhaps, beyond a NATO role towards the end of our period, the Falkland War comes up and is a very prominent engagement for the RAF overseas. So Ross, the Falkland War really presented the RAF with some great logistical challenges in 1982.

Skip to 0 minutes and 29 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, the Falkland War for the RAF but also for British military more broadly is, in Cold War context, out of place in some respects. From the late 1960s into the 1980s, there's been a shift in British defence policy. We've gone from east of Suez. And you know, this is a return to expeditionary war for something that the British military in the 70s haven't really been working on. And of course, the major challenge is that the Falkland Islands-- and the Falkland Islands are, of course, part of Britain-- is that it's a very long way aways. That deep in South Atlantic Ocean. There are major logistical issues. How the task group goes.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 secondsA major stopping off point is Ascension Island, which is still a very, very long way from the Falkland Island. But the RAF maintain an air bridge to Ascension Island. And then, from there, they continue supplying a fleet and so forth. But if we think about, for example, the Black Buck raids, the challenge of actually refuelling even a Vulcan bomber that has a long range to attack the Stanley airfield. And the Falkland is a major logistical challenge. The refuelling is something like 13 refuelling points during the attack. So it is a major logistical challenge. Both, for keeping the RAF factor but also for supporting the task force in the Army once it's there. And of course, the enemy has a vote.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsOne of the logistical support that the RAF seeks to provide, initially, is it sends Chinook helicopters. But of course, when the Atlantic Conveyor is sunk, only one of them, Bravo November, survives. And that causes major challenges for the forces deployed.

Skip to 2 minutes and 12 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: OK, Ross. Now you mentioned the Black Buck raids. And they're probably the most famous RAF engagements in the Falkland War. But how do we view now the RAFs role in that particular conflict?

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Well the RAFs role, to some degree, with the exception of the Black Buck raids, which it should be remembered as not just the bombing of the airfield. Also, quite significantly, attacks with anti-radiation missiles against Argentine radar sites. The other major contributions, you know, Black Buck takes up a lot of the literature. But actually, the RAF make a significant contribution. That has been, perhaps, undervalued. We deploy Harrier GR.3s to support operations of the two carriers deployed, the principle of HMS Hermes. As I've already mentioned, the RAF seek to deploy helicopters. Only Bravo November survives the sinking of the Atlantic conveyor. But actually, that helicopter plays a significant role.

Skip to 3 minutes and 12 secondsIt's moving and is heavily used, probably more heavily used than it should have been, but in moving forces between various points, especially in the final assault. But also from Ascension Island, I've already mentioned the air bridge of the air transport fleet. Both Hercules and the VC10, but also chartered aircraft. The RAF reach a charter. The Short Belfast that had gone out to service a few years earlier to provide that air bridge to ascension. There are phantoms deployed to ascension to provide air defence. And some of these phantoms will, eventually, go down to the Falkland Islands to form the flight that defends the Falklands post-war.

Skip to 3 minutes and 51 secondsBut also, probably most importantly, I would suggest is the deployment of the Nimrod to carry out Maritime patrol from Ascension Island down towards where the fleet is operating. This is a Maritime based campaign with an amphibious assault. The fleet needs to be defended. The fleet needs to be aware of where the Argentine Navy is patrolling, etc. So the Nimrod fleet plays a very, very important role in providing that defence for the operation. So the RAF is doing a lot. Some of which is not reported for various obvious reasons. But it's still playing a really, really key role in victory against the Argentinean forces.

Skip to 4 minutes and 35 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Understood. Now were there any important lessons learned by the RAF from the 1982 Falkland War?

Skip to 4 minutes and 43 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, I mean, one of the long lessons is that this, sort of, marks the return to expeditionary warfare, which becomes more and more prominent. And it's marked out in the 1998 strategic Defence Review that that's what Britain is going to do. But the 1990s are more recently we have essentially been conducted expeditionary operations in places like Afghanistan. For the RAF in particular, one recognition is the need to improve its airborne early warning fleet. This, eventually, is the decision to order the E-3D Sentry. The RAF needs to improve and upgrade the Nimrod fleet.

Skip to 5 minutes and 17 secondsSo there are some operational lessons that come out of it in terms of improving the fleet and this recognition that we need to improve some of the kit that the RAF is operating.

Skip to 5 minutes and 26 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: OK, Ross. Thank you for that. While we will be dealing with the RAF's overseas role in future weeks, I think this is drawing to a conclusion how the RAF is operating independently of its principal NATO role. So we'll draw this discussion to conclusion now.

The Falklands War

The Falklands War

In this video we wanted to consider the following statements and questions:

  1. The Falklands War presented the RAF with some unprecedented logistical challenges.

  2. The Black Buck raids are the most famous of the 1982 engagements. How do we view now the RAF’s role in the conflict?

  3. Where there any important lessons from the 1982 conflict for the RAF?

We would like to know what you think as well, so please post in the comments below.

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This video is from the free online course:

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London