The Opposing Forces- Order of Battle- Britain
If the Royal Navy of 1982 was no longer the undisputed master of the oceans of the world, it was still a formidable, modern force.
- Carrier Forces: The British task force dispatched to the Falklands was centered around two light carriers capable of operating helicopters and Harrier jump jets. One, HMS Hermes, was a conversion of an older light carrier. The other, HMS Invincible, was purpose built to operate as a Harrier carrier. While this two carrier force was a greater force than most navies of the world, it was a far cry from the capabilities the Royal Navy had possessed as little as six years previously before Britain’s last full size carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was decommissioned. Indeed, the British Ministry of Defense was even then planning on disposing of the two carriers it still had as a cost cutting measure. It was in large part this massive downsizing of the British forces that led the Argentinian junta to judge that the British had no stomach for a fight. Had the British retained the services of HMS Ark Royal, with its formidable FGR.2 Phantom fighters (that’s the British version of the F-4 Phantom) and SB.2 Buccaneer attack aircraft, the Argentinians would almost certainly never have contemplated seizing the Falklands by force.
- Destroyers and Frigates
- Type 42 (Sheffield class) DDG- With long range air surveillance radars, and the long-range Sea Dart missile system, the Type 42s were designed to provide an area air defense umbrella over a task force. These were the most modern air defense destroyers in the British fleet. HMS Sheffield, Coventry, Glasgow, Cardiff and Exeter served in the Falklands.
- County Class DDG- An older design, armed with the Sea Slug missile, the County class ships had the same basic mission as the Type 42s. HMS Antrim and Glamorgan served in the Falklands.
- Bristol Class DDG-HMS Bristol was a one-ship class armed with the Sea Dart missile. She was designed for the same mission as the Type 42s and the County Class destroyers.
- Type 12 (Modified) FF- HMS Yarmouth and Plymouth were older frigates optimized for the anti-submarine warfare mission. Their primary anti-aircraft weapon was the obsolete Sea Cat missile.
- Leander Class FF- Another older frigate class approaching obsolescence, very similar in appearance to the Type 12 class. Like the Type 12s, the Leanders primary anti-aircraft weapon was the Sea Cat missile. Serving in the Falklands were HMS Andromeda, Argonaut, Penelope and Minerva.
- Type 21 Class FF- The Amazon Class frigates were an austere, low cost design for a general purpose warship. The class was designed with sales to foreign navies in mind as well as the Royal Navy. Lightly built, and with relatively poor armament and sensors, they were not considered a great success by the Royal Navy. Like earlier British frigates, they had the Sea Cat missile as their primary anti-aircraft weapon. HMS Antelope, Ardent, Arrow and Avenger served in the South Atlantic.
- Type 22 Class FF- Disappointed with the Type 21 class frigates, the Type 22 class frigates were larger, equipped with better sensors, and in addition, had the excellent Seawolf short range missile system aboard for self defense against low flying aircraft and missiles. HMS Broadsword and Brilliant were deployed.
- Most British destroyers and frigates were also armed with the French MM38 Exocet anti-ship missile. Most also carried either one or two 4.5”(115 mm) guns for use against shore, surface and aerial targets. These destroyers and frigates also carried a limited number of obsolete optically aimed 40 mm and 20 mm cannons for close in defense. At a time when the US Navy was beginning to equip its ships with the radar aimed 20 mm Phalanx cannon for last ditch defense, the limitations of these guns would soon become apparent.
- Amphibious Warfare ships
- Fearless Class assault ships- Fearless and Intrepid were designed to transport amphibious assault landing craft, troops, and the troops heavy equipment for delivery via well decks, or landing by helicopters operating from platforms at the rear of the ship. Lightly armed for only the most rudimentary self defense, it was intended for them to operate with close escort by warships at all times. Each ship could transport from between 400 and 700 troops.
- Sir Bedivere Landing Ship Logistic- The six ships of the Sir Bedivere class that served in the South Atlantic were used to carry the enormous quantities of military cargo that any landing force needs. Ammunition, packaged fuel, vehicles, rations, artillery, and other supplies were carried aboard these vessels, and unloaded via helicopter, or by landing craft provided by the Fearless class ships. Sir Bedivere, Sir Tristam, Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot, Sir Geraint, and Sir Percivale fought in the Falklands. Each of these ships could carry from 340 to 530 troops and about 30 vehicles.
- Auxiliaries and Merchant vessels- in addition to the warships and amphibious shipping the British task force also had a large number of auxiliaries and commercial vessels to provide fuel and logistical support to the fleet at sea, and carry the large number of ground troops that would be needed to successfully overcome the Argentinian army ashore. Notable examples of the merchant vessels include the Atlantic Conveyor, the Canberra, and the Queen Elizabeth II.
Britain operated both several nuclear and one diesel electric submarine in the conflict. British submariners have long had a reputation as being among the best in the world. Nuclear submarines deployed were HMS Spartan, Splendid, Conqueror, Valiant and Courageous. HMS Onyx was the only conventionally powered British submarine deployed.
- Fixed Wing Aircraft- extreme distance from friendly airfields prevented the British from deploying any conventional strike or fighter aircraft to the theater. The only tactical the small British could deploy were the Harriers of the Hermes and Invincible air groups. The small size of these ships also severely limited the total number of aircraft that could be operated.
- Harrier- The Harrier FRS.2 of the Fleet Air Arm was primarily a light attack aircraft, but it was equipped with an air to air radar and the then state of the art AIM-9L Sidewinder short range air to air missile. In addition, several RAF Harrier GR.3 jets were later deployed. These aircraft lacked the FRS.2’s radar and air to air capability. So desperate for Harriers were the British, the civilian container ships Atlantic Conveyor and Atlantic Causeway were quickly modified to ferry Harriers forward from Britain to the South Atlantic. These Harriers were used to bring the Hermes and Invincible air groups to full strength.
- Vulcan Bomber- Operating from Wideawake airfield on Ascension Island, several strikes on Stanley airfield were made by Vulcan B.2 bombers heavily supported by Victor K.2 tankers. These attacks, made with conventional bombs to crater the runway, and AGM-45 Shrike missiles to target Argentinian radars, were of little success.
- Nimrod maritime patrol – Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, evolved from the original jet transport, the Comet, also operated in support of the task force. Staged from Ascension, they provided surface surveillance ahead of the task force during its movement from Britain to Ascension, and then from Ascension toward the task forces operating area east of the Falklands themselves.
- Helicopters- In addition to fixed wing aircraft, the task force brought along a number of Navy and Army helicopters, to support both the actions of the fleet, and the army forces ashore.
- Chinook- Originally, several Chinook HC.1 helicopters were to support operations ashore. Due to losses at sea, only one Chinook survived to participate in the battle ashore.
- Sea King- Several variants of the Westland Sea King helicopter provided support to both naval and ground operations. Prince Andrew, then second in line to the British throne, was a Sea King pilot.
- Wessex- The Westland Wessex, a turbine powered version of the US CH-34, provided transportation support to ground forces.
- Lynx/Wasp/Gazelle- Most destroyers and frigates carried a light helicopter for anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, and surface surveillance. The Army also operated utility versions ashore for reconnaissance, liaison and transportation missions.
A detailed description of the ground battle is outside the scope of this series, but any amphibious operation by definition must tie the ground, air and naval elements together. The British deployed a roughly divisional strength force to the Falklands.
- 3 Commando Brigade
- 5 Infantry Brigade
Each brigade consisted of several battalions of infantry or Royal Marines, supporting artillery, and a variety of supporting combat service, and combat service support troops. In addition, large numbers of troops from the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service (the British equivalent to our Special Forces) were deployed.
In the next installment (Part 3), we’ll examine the forces available to the Argentinians.