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The Falklands War

The Avro Vulcan was perhaps the RAF's most iconic Cold War aircraft. However in 1982 it provided an important long-distance bombing capacity to 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.

Britain’s last imperial war?

The Falklands War holds a special place in the (relatively) recent history of Britain. This might be considered the last imperial war. Before the war, Mrs Thatcher was the least popular British Prime Minister in the post-1945 era; the year after (in 1983) she won by a landslide – or, at least, a far better showing than could have been anticipated at the beginning of 1982. It was also the last time the RAF could have operated over such huge distances – the Vulcan was taken out of service two years later. Between April and June 1982 Britain and the Argentine were in open military conflict over the Falkland Islands, and a smaller group of islands in and around the island of South Georgia. The Falkland Islands are something less than 500km from the Argentine coast in the South Atlantic. They remain a British Overseas Territory to this day – and they are one of the very few imperial territories still allied to Britain – there has been a British settlement there since the 1830s, and it has been a British Colony since the 1840s. Until the War it was largely forgotten, and its inhabitants were in the process of having their British citizenship downgraded to holders of a British Dependency passport when hostilities broke out – a 1983 Act of Parliament restated the British citizenship of the Falkland Islanders.

The backdrop to the War was a military junta in the Argentine from 1981; and systematic defence cuts by the Thatcher Government in her first term. Sensing a weak commitment of the British to defend the islands, and looking to win a popular victory to curry domestic support, the Argentine military ‘retook the Malvinas’ Islands.

The British response was in one respect remarkable. The Falkland Islands are 51° south of the equator; London is 51° north of the equator. The Operation Black Buck raids (Find out more about these here) saw Vulcan bombers operate 8,000 miles from home, in what were the longest distance bombing raids in history at the time. Victor tankers refuelled other Victor tankers to refuel the Vulcan bombers – the logistics of the operations were more impressive than perhaps the military outcomes of the raids. The operation of the Harriers of the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm proved their worth in theatre, as did the one Chinook helicopter which was able to operate in support of the British army. The Task Force which was despatched from Britain was successful in mounting an amphibious assault on the territories invaded by the Argentines, with the RAF providing a critical support role throughout.

Earlier this year (2016) the British Defence Secretary restated Britain’s commitment to the Falklands (Read about this here). Britain did not always take such a staunch line with regards its far flung remnants of empire – in 1984 Mrs Thatcher came to an agreement with the Chinese government to hand back the Island of Hong Kong when Britain’s lease on the adjacent New Territories came to term in 1997. A more cynical reading of events might emphasize the possible natural resources which may be around the Falkland Islands and Britain’s interests in the Antarctic as being critical here, but I think we can safely say that the Falklands War was the last time that ‘the Empire could Strike Back’ (and references to the second Star Wars movie abounded at the time of the Falklands War).

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

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