View Full Version : SAS over Tierra del Fuego.

05-05-2007, 03:51 PM
SAS 'suicide mission' to wipe out Exocets

By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent

THE Special Air Service planned to mount a raid on Argentina by submarine in order to destroy the Argentine navy's stock of Exocet missiles, according to a new book on the Falklands conflict.

Argentina was known to have bought five Exocet missiles from France before the outbreak of hostilities in April 1982. Two were used in the attack on the destroyer Sheffield, which alerted the British to the Exocet threat, and Task Force commanders were desperate to destroy the remainder.

[/URL]The submarine raid came about after the decision to scrap Operation Mikado, a plan to land a detachment of SAS in two RAF Hercules at the Argentine airfield at Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego, where the Exocet-equipped unit was based. The aim was to destroy the missiles, the five Super Etendard aircraft that carried them, and to kill the pilots.

According to Task Force, which reveals for the first time the full details of Operation Mikado, British commanders then devised a fresh plan using the Royal Navy submarine Onyx to infiltrate the SAS into Argentina.
By that point the British had suffered another critical loss to the Exocet in the shape of the container ship Atlantic Conveyor and her cargo of heavy-lift helicopters.

A successful attack on Hermes or Invincible, the two carriers at the centre of the Task Force, could have spelt the end of the operation to recover the islands.

Under the plan, two dozen SAS troops were to be taken by Onyx to the coast of Tierra del Fuego, before rowing ashore in Gemini rubber boats.

They would then make their way to Rio Grande and destroy the Exocets and Super Etendards with anti-tank rockets and explosive charges, before killing the pilots in their living quarters.
The SAS carried out rehearsals for the operation in San Carlos Water, on the west coast of East Falkland, with advice from the Royal Marines' Special Boat Service.

One of those involved recalled: "We were to be dropped off from the submarine several miles offshore at night and then make our way to the coast aboard rubber inflatables. There was a lot of equipment and weapons and the plan left nothing to chance, and we were all confident we could have carried it through.

"Earlier ideas to land a Hercules at the Argentine base were quite frankly suicidal, but this had a good chance of success. However once the job was over that was it. There was no plan to get us out. We simply had to make our way to Chile and link up with our people there."

What the British did not know was that the Argentines had bolstered the security around Rio Grande with three battalions of marines. An SAS attack would probably have ended in disaster.

The book shows the extreme lengths to which the British were prepared to go to deal with the Exocet threat. The first option was to use Fleet Air Arm Sea Harriers or one of the RAF's last remaining Vulcan bombers to bomb Rio Grande.

But the Sea Harriers were too few and too precious to be risked, while a Vulcan strike on Port Stanley airport had proved inconclusive. Thus was Operation Mikado born.
The man in charge of the planning was Brig (later Gen) Peter de la Billiere, the director of the SAS and SBS Group.

Mikado involved landing about 55 men of B Squadron SAS from the two Hercules, which would remain on the tarmac with their engines running while the detachment went about its business. If the aircraft survived to take off, they would head for the Chilean air base at Punta Arenas, just across the Stratis of Estrecho.

The fall-back plan if, as seemed likely, the Hercules were damaged during the operation, was for the assault party and the aircrew to make their way to the Chilean border, about 50 miles distant.
The SAS was deeply sceptical that the Chileans would agree to the plan but, while diplomatic approaches were being made, B Squadron went ahead with rehearsals.

By the time the political clearance came through, some of the more experienced members of B Squadron were suggesting that the operation had little chance of success, effectively amounting to a suicide mission.
A helicopter carrying the SAS reconnaissance team took off from Hermes on the night of May 17, but was detected by Argentine radar.

The Sea King had insufficient fuel to rejoin the Task Force, so the pilot flew to the Chilean mainland and dropped off the SAS team, before setting fire to his helicopter and surrendering to the Chilean authorities.

At Hereford, the commander of B Squadron suggested that, with the element of surprise almost certainly lost, the original plan should be scrapped in favour of an operation overland via Chile.

But the suggestion was turned down and the original mission was ordered to go ahead.

At that point the tempers of senior members of the squadron almost boiled over. Rehearsals had shown that a surprise attack by Hercules was almost impossible - the aircraft being detected by radar well before landing.
One sergeant decided that the only way to make his point was to resign. Informing Brig de la Billiere of the resignation, shortly before the team was due to fly out to Ascension, the squadron commander added that he too considered the operation unviable. He was immediately relieved of his command and replaced by the regiment's second-in-command.

But by the time B Squadron arrived at Ascension Island, the staging post for the attack, British intelligence had discovered that the Argentines enjoyed far better radar coverage than previously thought. The operation, one of the most audacious in British military history, was postponed.
[URL="http://img96.imageshack.us/img96/5051/yo5fd.jpg"] (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/graphics/2002/03/08/nfalk08big.gif;jsessionid=JZNAWWNHEOUHLQFIQMFSFF4A VCBQ0IV0)

05-05-2007, 05:54 PM
You just wanted to show off your radar! :)

05-06-2007, 01:11 PM
I just wanted to remeber everybody that British Forces actually operated over the mainland.


05-06-2007, 03:15 PM
I think that that is probably deniable, but probably not much of a secret. However, why not? Argentinian forces operated on and over the islands.

05-06-2007, 04:35 PM
It was not a every day picnic obviously bu at list in this time it was true.

A piece of the Sea king wich bring the SAS team to the continet is in the National Aeronautic Museum...despite it fell in the chilean side of Tierra del Fuego.

05-06-2007, 11:38 PM
No drama in taking the fight to the mainland. Nothing illegal or wrong with it either.

If there was targets there taht would help the boys on the Islands then they could be targeted.

ie Air Forces bases, or Exocet stores.

05-07-2007, 07:28 PM
A picture of the 3 RNAS crew whom carried the 9 SAS men to Tierra del Fuego, the date of the photo is may 26 and the place is the British embassy in santiago.


05-08-2007, 07:03 PM
More detail in this operation:


The piece of metal recovered from the ZA290 crash site. it now is the National Aeronautic museum.


Scans of : Revista Aeronautica y espacial Nš 518. 1997

10-07-2007, 10:40 AM
The aircrew were not RAF - they were Royal Navy aircrew.

There was never any intention to recover the Sea King. It was completely stripped of all but essential equipment before it set off to Argentina.

Lone Ranger
10-07-2007, 02:39 PM
If I remember correctly Operation Mikado was canceled by the politicians as too risky, not the military.

10-08-2007, 06:23 PM
The aircrew were not RAF - they were Royal Navy aircrew.

Fixed, in the epigrafh said so , aviacion naval, but I ve overlook that. :rolleyes:

10-09-2007, 04:13 AM
If the capability was available I would have tried to bomb the Airfields too or at least have tried to kill the aircrew somehow which would have been the easiest way to take out the air threat.

10-09-2007, 10:39 AM
Hard enough to geta bomb on Port Stnley Airfield. Maybe if the war had dragged on abit, then British agents/SF could have stirred up trouble with the various Argentine agitators.

If we could have got a third carrier down there, we could have been a bit more daring and put her in harms way, smash up the tankers on the way out, and watch the Argie Air Force crash in to the sea on the way back.

10-09-2007, 02:21 PM

Glad to see your a naval strategist as well! Great idea to put your capital ships "in harms way".

Now let me see, that would mean the endangering of another 15 SHAR (which we didn't have) plus all the escorts and goalkeepers.

And this would be just to stop tankers.....

PS Not sure about 'talk the talk'

10-10-2007, 12:38 AM
HWB unfortunatly this medium of conversation doesn't lend itself to my sense of humour alot of the time.

And no, I am not a naval strategist, what do mean by as well?

A captial ship in "harms way" doesn't mean she is sat under the flight path, just in a position where her Harriers can reach out and do some damage. You may not realise it but the carriers in the Falklands were so valuable (the balance of the aircraft fleet was very fine) that they were kept as far from the Islands/Argentine reach as possible whilst still maintaining combat effectiveness.

As Admiral Woodward had said "Loose Invincible and the operation in severely jeopardized, lose Hermes and the operation is over". Strange but true, the two "harrier carriers" were closer in than the two actual carriers.

With a spare one could have been pushed in to a position where there were more danger, but also it would be in a position to do more damage.

The 15 extra Sea Harriers for Illustrious (she would be the next Carrier, commissioned en route to relieve Invincilbe on the 20 June 1982 so like I say had the war dragged on three carrierss were a possibility, or we could have pulled out Bulwark from mothballs (work was commenced to do this at the outbreak of war incidentally)) could come from those carried on Atlantic Conveyor and Causeway.

Hermes carried 12, Invincible carried 8, in May a further 8 Sea Harriers and 6 more harriers (RAF) were sent down. The main problem with the number of aircraft carried down was real estate, not numbers of Aircraft available. Hermes, Invincible, Fearless, Intrepid, Atlantic Causeway and Conveyor not too mention QE2, Uganda and Canberra all operated aircraft from them (excluding the Destroyers/Frigates own helis) the ones in bold conducted Harrier ops.

And ref the tankers.... if the Argentine Aircraft require refueling in order to get to the Falklands and back, but the tankers (the soft targets) are all splashed, what happens to the fighters when they run out of fuel? I don't think it takes a genius to figure that one out.

Without the tankers being replaced the air support over the Islands is reduced to what the Islands have. Pucarras on Pebble Island and a Troop carrying Helis in the main.

The 400 miles from Argentina to the Falklands meant an 800-mile round trip from the Rio Gallegos Air Base, almost the maximum operating range of the Argentine aircraft just in transit. Argentine pilots had to try to reach the their targets undetected, deliver their ordnance and get out sharp.

They could not afford to lurk and recce targets or offer much opposition to the Harriers as they would run dangerously low on fuel and might have to ditch.

Argentine aerial-refueling capabilities were limited (two KC-130s, plus "buddv refueling" for Skyhawk and Super Etendard aircraft).

Just to stop tankers? Big fat flammable targets or small, fast ones designed to take some damage? How many tankers did the Argies have? Against how many fighters? Even the "buddy pack" sky hawks tended to lumber when flying.

Also a couple of Harriers just causing the incoming jets to put a spurt on the way in, would cause the number of aborted attacks or splash downs on the return journey to increase.

The entire Argentine Air Force consisted of...
44 Mirages Fighters
68 Skyhawk fighter-bombers
10 Canberra bombers
5 Super Etendard naval attack aircraft
60 pesky Argentine Pucará light ground-attack aircraft

The Brits claim 5 Skyhawks and 19 Mirages. That could have easily increased with more interference on the outward and return legs. The Argentine Navy through in the towel with one Battleship being sunk, what would have been the magic number for the Argentine Air Force?

Also worth noting that due to the Argentines failure to extend the runway at Port Stanley, it couldn't except Mirages or Skyhawks. Once the war started very few supplies reached the Islands (although they were well stocked in April) a few ships landed supplies at night and a few planes landed supplies too. With a carrier in the way this might have been reduced to zero too.

The presence of a carrier might even have tempted some of the Argentine Navy out, for HMS Spartan and Splendid to engage.

Not a strategist by the way.

10-10-2007, 01:44 PM
You may not realise it but the carriers in the Falklands were so valuable
I fully realise how valuable the carriers were! Why do you think I was appalled at your idea of putting them "in danger"?
I happened to be a Fleet Air Arm pilot flying throughout the conflict and, with respect, know the facts from personal observation and not books or films.

Have you seen any combat?

Yes - close up and personal

Seen a little on TV.
That is probably the safest place to see it

You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?
Yes and sadly I can prove it


10-10-2007, 02:16 PM

Glad to see your a naval strategist as well! Great idea to put your capital ships "in harms way".

Now let me see, that would mean the endangering of another 15 SHAR (which we didn't have) plus all the escorts and goalkeepers.

And this would be just to stop tankers.....

PS Not sure about 'talk the talk'

Er before you go gaga on 1000Yd's sig I should point out that it will be irrelevant to anyone who was not on the Forum when the infamous IronMan was resident here.

It was meant for him and should not be taken as anything more. However, maybe 1000 Yd should maybe think about changing it in light of the fact that no one else knows the context to take it in.

Just something to think about guys.

10-10-2007, 02:35 PM
Before you throw a strop HWB, I would point out I was a mere nipper during that conflict, so yes my knowledge of the Falklands does come from 2nd hand sources rather than experience.

Like Firefly says, the signature is old and possibly out of date. Strange how people seem to take umbridge at such matters. Perhaps it is because the interent doesn't allow such personnel contact as a bar or similar would. I remember another guy on here getting stroppy about something similar.

I must admit, as I have already, not to be a naval strategist, but I am puzzled at your responses.

To my mind a soldier, sailor or airman, or for that matter their respective vehicles, nearly always has to expose themselves to danger in order to complete there task. To that end I find your views that a carrier should not be put in dager strange.

You do realise that my comment on putting in harms way didn't involve the carrier sailing in to a traditional gun fight don't you? As in, I meant that the third carrier could be exposed to more danger, and better place her weapons (ie the Harriers) to interfere with Argentine Operations.

This is what I see servicemen and women doing. Pte Beharry PWRR VC didn't think the best place for his warrior was in the garages did he? Nor did Pte "Chuck" Norris RAMC MC think the best place for her medical satchel was inside the Warrior she was in.

For the purposes of balance, what would you have done with a 3rd carrier?

10-10-2007, 03:51 PM

Many thanks for the background info. It seemed a bit incongruous in a military forum!

No strop here - no reason to <;-)

The basic concept of putting capital ships in a place where they can be easily attacked is totally unsound. That is precisely the rest why the carriers spent their time at the Eastern end of the TALA. It gives you the benefits of pickets radar, AEW, defence in depth and numerous other advantages. To suggest that you stick a carrier, who's sole purpose is to provide aircraft to fight in a place of increased danger, is frankly ludicrous. By all means put the individual aircraft in combat which is what we did but to risk the very nucleus of your fighting force is foolhardy.

And for what? In your post you state that the Argentice IFR was limited to two C130 and buddy packs. Carriers don't go around alone but of necessity need a support group so why risk all this just to down a couple of tankers? The risk is not just from air attack but the Argentines had two excellent SSK which were unlucky not to score during the conflict; similarly they had ship based Exocet that they deployed. (They even took it ashore in the FI and used it from trailers).

The whole strategy was to gain air superiority so that the troops could be landed to recapture the islands. After the first week of being on station that superiority was acheived. Thereafter it was essential to keep surface ships with the troops safe until they could be landed and then resupplied and supported.

Yes there were raids flown by incredibly brave pilots who knew that if we got them to blow their drop tanks or use afterburner they would not make it back to Argentina. That was the whole benefit of the AIRCRAFT CARRIER. Had the ARA Vintecento de Mayo not had major vibration in her propulsion after supporting the invasion of the the Falklands it may have been a different matter.


10-10-2007, 03:58 PM
To answer your question about a third carrier I would have kept her with the main body of the Task Force - no doubt about it.

Remember all the merchant ships that brought the stores, ammunition etc were all kept in South Georgia until the equipment was needed. The troops ships QE2 and Canberra did their 'cross-decking' of troops in S. Georgia for exactly the same reason - to keep your prime assetts as far from the enemy's grasp as possible.

As to the individuals that you cite, both of them were very courageously responding to a situation of helping their colleagues and saving lives under fire. That is totally different to any other type of bravery, it comes from quick decisions made in the heat of battle with disregard for personal safety. It does not mean that you put hundreds of men and your major offensive weapons (SHAR) in 'harms way'


09-02-2013, 03:11 PM
The aircrew were not RAF - they were Royal Navy aircrew.

There was never any intention to recover the Sea King. It was completely stripped of all but essential equipment before it set off to Argentina.

What a shame the UK didn't marshall enough air power to destroy the entire Argentinian Air Force on the ground. It would have served them right.

09-02-2013, 04:22 PM
Bumping a 5 year old thread to make a snarky comment without justifying it? Not impressed. Thread locked.