Michael Nicholson had a 50 year career in journalism covering conflicts ranging from the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Not just content with reporting the news, he smuggled a nine-year-old orphan out of war-torn Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and brought her back to the UK where he adopted her.
For many of us it was perhaps his reporting of the 1982 Falklands War for which he will be most remembered. In this clip from ITN, he reports on the first British airstrikes against Argentinian forces on the island at Port Stanley including the famous Black Buck raids involving a Vulcan bomber flying the longest range mission in history to that point.
The UK government was made aware of the protests when a letter of complaint was delivered to the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. In it the Argentinian foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, declared the exercise scheduled to start later this coming week as “illegitimate” and that “the behaviour of the United Kingdom contradicts the principle of the peaceful settlement of controversies supported unanimously by countries in the region.”
The letter also made specific note of British forces conducting live firing tests of a Rapier Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system. This weapon was responsible for destroying or damaging five Argentine warplanes during the Falklands War in 1982 (the exact figures are disputed but the weapon gained a certain level of notoriety regardless in Argentina).
An MoD spokesperson responded by saying that the exercises were routine being intended to maintain the skills and test the effectiveness of the British garrison that has been guarding the islands since the Argentine invasion 34 years ago. Despite being repelled by a British taskforce the Argentinians maintain a desire to claim the islands for themselves, a cause which has grown in intensity in recent years as oil deposits continue to be found in the region. In January of this year, approximately 500 million barrels worth of oil was discovered in the Elaine oilfield to the north of the islands.
HMS Clyde (shipspotting.com)
Mrs Malcorra’s letter is an unfortunate step back in Argentine-UK relations after efforts by both parties in the last year to repair the diplomatic damage caused by the presidency of Cristina Kirchner. President Kirchner launched an aggressive foreign policy against the UK regarding ownership of the islands, going as far as asking the new Argentina-born Pope to intervene in support of her country’s claim. Of considerable concern to the UK during this time were the efforts Buenos Aires took to encourage support for their claim from neighbouring Latin American countries resulting in the British warship HMS Clyde being refused permission to dock in Brazil in 2011 because it was on Falklands protection duties.
The situation became so serious that the Falkland Islanders conducted a referendum in 2013 regarding their future in which they voted overwhelmingly to remain a British overseas territory hoping that this would send a message to the Argentinians that they need to accept their position.
Since the presidency was assumed by Mauricio Macri, the situation has improved with new trade deals covering oil, fishing, navigation and trade in and around the islands between both parties. However it is quite clear that the sovereignty of the islands is still an emotive issue in Argentina and that seems unlikely to change in the near future.
120 reserve paratroopers have been deployed to the Falkland Islands. It is the first time that a reserve force has been deployed to help garrison the islands since the British government was forced to fortify them in the wake of the 1982 Falklands War. The paratroopers are said to all hail from Lincoln in the East Midlands.
A source in the MoD told the Express;
This is a great opportunity to give them a focus. In the past we’ve pennypacketed reservists. You’d have a group of 20, including a sergeant, put in among regulars. It meant reservist officers never got to command. This allows them to experience duties which are difficult to do here.
The deployment reflects the British Army’s growing trend towards greater use of part-time forces to complement full-time personnel. Known as “Future Army 2020”, the aim is to integrate regular and reserve personnel in to a more harmonious force than has been the case in the past. This would consist of a planned 82,000 regular personnel supported by 30,000 trained reservists. A consequence of this will be that reserve troops will be deployed more frequently on operations in the future. The plan was conceived in 2012 as a response to the then coalition government’s sweeping reforms in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The MoD admits however that recruitment and retention of personnel is becoming an increasing problem. Recently, the Army introduced gift vouchers to soldiers who could convince friends to sign up indicating just how serious the problem is. Unfortunately, personnel shortages affect all branches of the armed forces and this will no doubt only further the use of reserve personnel in order to maintain the UK’s operational commitments.
On May 25th 1982, HMS Coventry and HMS Broadsword took up position to the north-west of Falkland Sound to act as a decoy to draw Argentinian aircraft away from the landings at San Carlos Bay. As the Argentinians attacked, Coventry knocked out two A-4 Skyhawks with her Sea Dart SAMs before she was struck by three bombs just above the water line on the port side. One of the bombs exploded beneath the computer room, destroying it and the nearby operations room and incapacitating almost all the senior officers.
Another weapon entered the Forward Engine Room, exploding beneath the Junior Ratings Dining Room. Having sustained critical damage, the vessel began listing to port. The blast from the second bomb breached the bulkhead between the forward and aft engine rooms, exposing the largest open space in the ship to uncontrollable flooding. Within 20 minutes Coventry had been abandoned and not long after she completely capsized before sinking.
Nineteen of her crew were lost and a further thirty injured while 170 crewmembers were rescued by Broadsword. With a typically British sense of humour, her crew sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian while they waited to be rescued.
On the same day the merchant ship, S.S. Atlantic Conveyor was hit by two AM39 air launched Exocet missiles fired by a pair of Armada Argentina (Argentine Navy) Dassault Super Étendard jet strike-fighters. The Argentine goal was to sink the British carrier HMS Hermes but British defences managed to decoy them away. Unfortunately, the missiles then locked on to Atlantic Conveyor striking it on the port quarter killing twelve men including the ship’s master, Captain Ian North, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The ship was the first British merchant vessel lost to enemy action since World War II.
The sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor was a major blow to the British operation to retake the islands. The vessel was carrying a number of Chinook heavylift helicopters that were a key part of the British plan to move troops across the islands. Only one aircraft survived the attack meaning that British troops had to make the now legendary “yomp”across the islands – marching with full kit – which undoubtedly increased the length of the war. It could have been a lot worse however. The vessel had unloaded a contingent of RAF Harrier GR.3s earlier in the week which were now providing close air support for British troops.
May 25th 1982 was the Royal Navy’s lowest point in the war.
On May 23rd 1982, HMS Antelope was hit during an air strike on the British ships at San Carlos where British troops were being landed on to the Falklands. The attacking Argentine pilot flew his aircraft so low that as he passed over Antelope his wing struck the radar mast although he was able to maintain control and return to Argentina.
One of his stick of bombs broke through the hull of the ship killing steward Mark Steven however its arming pin had failed to engage. A follow up attack saw a second bomb strike the ship but again the weapon failed to detonate. The ship was moved to more sheltered waters and then largely abandoned as a bomb disposal team worked through the night to disarm it.
After three attempts to disarm one of the weapons the team used a small explosive charge to try and destroy it in a controlled explosion. Unfortunately this detonated the weapon and in the early hours of May 24th the night was illuminated by an immense explosion as the ship’s hull was torn open. A newspaper journalist nearby photographed the blast and the picture has become one of most enduring images of the war.
On May 21st 1982, the Type 21 frigate HMS Ardent was supporting the British landings on the Falklands at San Carlos when it was hit by two bombs from an Argentine combat aircraft both of which landed on the warship’s flight deck. The vessel remained afloat as firefighting efforts, including support from HMS Yarmouth, tried to save the vessel but later in the day the ship was hit yet again in another air attack by Argentine pilots who saw it as a target of opportunity.
From a tactical perspective this was a mistake by the Argentine pilots since Ardent was already out of the fight due to the damage sustained in the first attack and was certainly out of the war. Therefore by attacking Ardent they were risking their lives for a tactically insignificant target, throwing away their bombs that would have better served being used against one of the other RN ships that hadn’t been hit yet. The damage was so severe that the next day the vessel sank.
One of the cold realities of war regarding the loss of Ardent is that it was better that it got hit by the Argentine bombs rather than the troopships and landing craft it was protecting during the landings. The troopships were crammed full of soldiers and several of them were requisitioned ocean liners that had no armoured protection or adequate countermeasures to tackle combat damage. In this respect, Ardent’s sacrifice meant the Royal Navy achieved its mission which in the Nelsonian tradition is an honourable death for any ship. Unfortunately, Ardent would not be the only casualty sustained during the week long landings at San Carlos.
A collection of radio broadcastings made by BBC Radio 4 the day after the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentinian forces on April 2nd 1982.
(a) 10 am News Bulletin.
(b) The Week In Westminster with Robert Carvel and John Browne MP, Joch Stallard MP.
(c) Chimes of Big Ben.
(d) 11 am News Bulletin.
(e) Parliament Division whether to extend hours from 2 pm to 5 pm. (Failed)
(f) Speech and Statement by Margaret Thatcher MP, Prime Minister (24 mins).
(g) Speech by Michael Foot MP, Leader of the Opposition. (about 25 mins).
(h) Speech by Edward Du Cann MP (7 mins).