RAF News

Royal Air Force remembers start of Falklands conflict

Old photo of a helicopter, tanks and personnel in the Falklands.

The Royal Air Force is remembering the start of the Falklands conflict that took place 40 years ago.

On the 2nd April 1982, Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, followed by South Georgia the next day.  The British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force on the 5th April 1982 to retake the islands.  This task force eventually comprised 127 ships from the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary as well as 62 merchant ships.

Old photo of a Harrier GR.3 aircraft and Royal Navy Sea Harriers and a Sea King helicopter on the deck of a Battleship.
Harrier GR.3 aircraft of 1 Squadron parked alongside Royal Navy Sea Harriers and a Sea King helicopter on the flight deck of HMS Hermes on the 19th May 1982.

British military operations in the Falklands conflict were given the codename Operation CORPORATE, with the Royal Navy and British Army being heavily involved on the ground and in the waters surrounding the islands.

On the 1st May 1982, a Royal Air Force Vulcan bomber successfully completed the first ‘Black Buck’ raid on the airfield at Stanley.  Operation BLACK BUCK was a series of long-range bombing missions that set off from Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 4,000 miles away from the Falkland Islands.  The complex missions took around 16 hours and required air-to-air refuelling from 11 RAF Victor aircraft.

An RAF Vulcan Bomber in flight.
An RAF Vulcan Bomber in flight.

The Falklands conflict lasted 74 days with the Argentine forces surrendering on the 14th June 1982.  A total of 907 lost their lives and over 2,000 were wounded.  Of the 907 that died, 255 were British servicemen, 649 were Argentine, and three were Falkland Island residents.

Old photo of 1 (F) Squadron.
1 (F) Squadron in the Falklands led by Wing Commander Squire, who went on to become Chief of the Air Staff in 2000. 

In 1985, RAF Mount Pleasant opened as part of British efforts to strengthen the defence of the Falkland Islands. As part of British Forces South Atlantic Islands (BFSAI), Quick Reaction Alert aircraft are stationed there to defend the UK overseas territories 24/7.

On the 14th June 2022, a ceremonial event will take place at the National Memorial Arboretum with the Royal British Legion inviting Falklands veterans, civilians, and family members.  Registration is now open until late April and more information is available on the Royal British Legion website.

Old photo of a Chinook and RAF personnel on the ground.
Chinook HC1 (ZA718) call sign 'Bravo November' of 18 Squadron RAF, at Teal Inlet shortly before transporting an Argentine prisoner back to Brigade Headquarters on 29 May 1982.

The Chinook first entered service 40 years ago alongside the start of the Falkland conflict.  The most famous Chinook helicopter named 'Bravo November' was the only one to survive through the conflict and continued to serve ever since.  Bravo November recently went on display at RAF Cosford Museum, and Forces News published the below video to celebrate its 40 years of service.


Meet some retired Royal Air Force personnel that were involved in the conflict 40 years ago who talk about their roles and experiences.

Senior Aircraftman Nick Turner

"Many of us actually thought the Falkland Islands were north of Scotland! I was still new to the RAF I had just turned eighteen the month before the conflict began. I was at the forward operating base at Port San Carlos until the ceasefire, when I was moved onboard the Canberra which was essentially a prisoner of war ship. Alongside the Welsh Guards, we took the POWs back to Argentina. Looking back, it feels like an enormous responsibility at the age I was. I didn’t appreciate it then, but as an experience I think it certainly changed me in a positive way.

I don’t think any of us were scared at all until we arrived in the Falklands; maybe we weren’t considering the bigger picture at the time as many of us were just so young, and the situation was so unknown. Later in my career, I moved from Harriers to helicopters so I’ve been involved in almost every conflict involving the RAF since then. It’s tough at times, but I’m definitely a different person because of it. I think the Falklands felt surreal for many of us, but we were all happy to be there at the time. No one complained or questioned why we were there. After I left the RAF I really appreciated how we have that ‘can do’ attitude which we demonstrated so amazingly back in 1982."

Personnel leans on wall.
Senior Aircraftman Nick Turner, Flight Line Mechanic, 1(F) Squadron.

Flight Sergeant George Mullins

"In 1982, I was in Cyprus to help the BBC who were filming a documentary about the Harriers called ‘Squadron’. I arrived back in the UK just as the Falklands conflict had started. I called my boss to say “I’m back, I’ll see you tomorrow” - he told me to come in immediately, saying “We’re not off to Cyprus on a holiday, we’re going somewhere else instead.” That was the start of a very hectic five months for me, preparing the aircraft, equipment and everything else we needed.

The Station Commander Group Captain King, told me “Whatever you want from the station, you take.” The aim was to make sure we had absolutely everything we needed. I went to Devonport to assess the ‘Contender Bezant’ a carrier conversion container ship, to oversee it being loaded. While I was there, everyone was asking for space on the ship for their own equipment, including an Army Catering Corps Warrant officer with a mobile bakery and another with a mobile laundry.

Afterwards, I went to RAF St Mawgan to do the same for the air assets, and finally I flew down to Ascension Island for the next stage in movements. On Ascension, I saw the Catering Corps WO again who kindly provided us all with regular fresh bread - I’m glad we managed to load the bakery! I shared a tent with another flight sergeant, FS John Hill. After the ceasefire, we turned the sangars into toilet buildings, and one night John and I went to use the bathroom at the same time.

As we sat in the open air, icy wind blowing through the building, he looked at me and said “What are two old men doing here in a place like this?!” We had some really low times, such as when the Welsh Guards were seriously injured by a Harrier, but most of the lads I worked with were just so brilliant. “I’d do it all again if I had to - as long as I had this lot with me."

Personnel in suit.
Flight Sergeant George Mullins, Flight Line & Mobility Flight Sergeant, 1(F) Squadron

Senior Aircraftman Kevin Payne

"I remember one of the first times we went ashore into San Carlos on a bright white and red, cross- channel ferry; we were with the Scots Guards, the Gurkhas and a few Royal Marines. We landed at around 4am with an Argentinian bombardment happening in the distance; many of us joking that we were more concerned about the Royal Marines trying to steal our clothing which was superior to what they had at the time! After a few hours of sleep in the sheep pens, we were told to “dig in” as more raids were expected. Unlike a few of my mates who seemed happy just to lay on the ground, I went in search of the perfect hole to take cover in.

Like any good 1(F) Sqn SAC, I liked taking shortcuts, so I was happy to find a ready-made shell scrape in the perfect position. As I jumped into it there was a shriek - I’d landed straight on top of my friend Simon (Cornwall) who exclaimed ‘what a birthday present!” I just happened to have two cans of Tenants beer in my pouch, which we opened in that fox hole at 7am to toast his birthday as the raids continued in the distance. As we’ve both gotten older, I think about this a lot - the significance of two young lads celebrating a birthday a very long way from home.

After hostilities ended, I moved to Stanley Airfield into ‘tent city’. One of our tasks was to help the Islanders to recover their infrastructure and start rebuilding. We worked on a farm at Dunnose Head, which had sadly been the accidental target of a British Sea Harrier. The only damage was to the farm’s outhouse, which was occupied at the time of the raid although miraculously there were no casualties.

The pilot of the Harrier visited the family to apologise, but there was no hostility from them at all. What I remember most, was the incredible kindness of them all towards us - even though our forces had accidentally destroyed part of their farm. They regularly cooked meals for us and kept saying, “We can’t believe you all came eight thousand miles just to rescue our small island."

Personnel in pub with pint of Guinness.
Senior Aircraftman Kevin Payne, Flight Line Mechanic, 1(F) Squadron.

If you’ve been affected by the Falklands conflict and want to know more about improving your mental health, the RAF’s Health and Wellbeing page has a selection of tools and resources available.

Archive imagery courtesy of the RAF Museum and IWM.

Old photo of RAF Vulcan bombers on the airfield.