MEMORIES OF SPRING 1982.

By John Hathaway.Airframes.


In the Spring of 1982 I was an Air Electronics Officer flying Vulcan aircraft with 44 Squadron out of RAF Waddington. My crew and 4 others had recently returned to Waddington from Nellis Air Force Base after participating in Operation Red Flag Tactical Low Level Flying Training exercises. The only thing occupying our minds at this time was the imminent disbandment of the Vulcan force to make room for the new Tornado aircraft, We had all listened to the news about funny things going on in the South Atlantic with Argentina laying claim to British Territory. No more thought required, more important where would I be posted to and what 'jollies' can we go on before Disbandment day.

However, the Argies had diferent ideas they wanted more and so invaded the Falkland Islands 0n 2nd April. Now this annoyed our Prime Minister, very much and she decided that she wanted them out of her domain. A naval task force would be established and dispatched to recover our territory. Needless to say there were lots of discussions in high Military circles to establish the best way to free our South Atlantic buddies. It soon became clear that our military masters considered it possible to use airpower to dislodge the Enemy from the Falklands. And so it was decided that air-refuelled Vulcans, would carry out conventional bombing attacks on Port Stanley airfield to deny its use by Argentine forces opposing landing by the task force.

Now air to air refuelling had not been used by the Vulcans for more than twenty years because there had been no need and it had been a disaster waiting to happen. Also conventional bombing using 1,000 lb iron bombs had not been practised within the force. However, this was about to change. In mid April the 5 Red Flag crews were briefed to start Air to Air refuelling training with the Victor refuelling force and to also train in low level bombing techniques with 1,000 lb iron bombs. Training started on 14th April and continued until the deployment of two Vulcans and three aircrews to Ascension Island, the only British held base in the South Atlantic. at the end of the month.

During this period of intense training activity there were several incidents that people are unlikely to forget. On one night sortie my crew were briefed to carry out a low-level attack on Garvie Island, a barren rock in the Outer Hebrides. All went well until after the bomb run. We had taken off On time, rendezvoused with a Victor Tanker over the Atlantic south of Iceland, descended to low level and attacked the target on time with 7 X 1,000 lb bombs; they really did make big splashes. The plan was then to return to the tanker to take on more fuel; it must be remembered that Vulcan pilots were new to this game and had had little practice. On this occasion the Vulcan approached the Victor a little fast and hit the drogue rather hard, fuel transfer commenced and then the drogue broke off the hose, fuel gushed over the Vulcan and into the port engine intakes. There was a big flash and both port engines ran down. The pilots then pulled away from the Victor, pointed the nose down, and successfully carried the failed engine drills, restarting both engines. and I recovered the lost electrics. The Victor AEO was an old buddy who called on the radio "Are you OK John?", I replied "I'm fine, but I'm a bit busy at the moment." Once recovered we breathed again and went back to Waddington for a welcome beer.

This intense activity went on throughout April, however on the night of the 26th we landed to be told to go to Operations for a Briefing by no less than the Chief of Air Staff, Sir Michael Beetham. Basically we were told that 2 Vulcans would deploy to Ascension Island and 1 crew, designated the Ops crew, would be flown by VC10 from Brize Norton to Ascension Island the next day; my crew was to be the designated Ops Crew. An Andover, normally used by Mrs Thatcher, would leave Waddington for Brize Norton at 0700 hrs the following morning. As it was approaching midnight it was time to get home and pack for an early start tomorrow, no time for a beer tonight.

Once home there was little time for sleep, awake at 0530 a.m. finish packing, farewell to the family and off to war. A very shiny Andover was waiting at Waddington to take us to Brize Norton, where on arrival we were checked in to await the departure of the VC10 to Ascension. We were told there was a slight delay awaiting orders from London. After about an hour the Captain and I were called to the Reception. There we met a Squadron Leader Police dispatch rider who had raced from London with the Top Secret Operation Black Buck orders very freshly signed by the Prime Minister. Because I had a pen I signed for the package. The Captain and I managed a quick sneaky look at what I had just signed for; it was essentially an order for a Vulcan to carry out a Conventional Bomb Attack on Port Stanley airfield on 1st May 1982.

More to come.