South African Mine-Protected Vehicles

Casspir APC

The Casspir is an unusual vehicle, being in service in much the same form not only with several South African Police forces but also with the South African National Defence Force in a virtually identical form.

Built originally by TFM (Ply) Limited, the Casspir was originally based on a Bedford heavy commercial truck chassis but this was gradually modified and strengthened so that the Casspir can be taken as an original design.

The Casspir resembles an armoured truck with the armour extending to specially-shaped under-hull plates intended to reduce the effects of land mines and Casspir have repeatedly demonstrated that they can indeed survive heavy mine detonations; some have been specially equipped for detecting and clearing mines from roads in remote areas.

The first Casspir appeared in 1981. Since then over 2,500 have been produced and many have been rebuilt to extend their service lives, as production has now ceased.

The cab roof has provision for a weapon station, usually a single 7.62 mm MG but police vehicles may have all manner of anti-riot weapons, including a rapid-firing rubber bullet dispenser.

The troops (or police) are seated on outward-facing bench seats down the centre of the rear compartment and are provided with vision blocks and firing ports (police versions usually have larger vision blocks covered by grills). Entry to the rather high off the ground compartment is via a door in the rear – large roof hatches are provided.

Also produced is a Casspir ambulance, and three ‘specials’. One of these is the Duiker 5000-litre fuel tanker with the tank replacing the troop compartment.

The Blesbock is an armoured load carrier with a cargo body capable of carrying 5 tonnes of supplies – a water tank may form part of the load.

The Gemsbock is a recovery vehicle.

There have been three main models of the Casspir, the Mk 1, Mk II and Mk III, all of which have incorporated improvements as a result of operational experience. Wherever possible standard commercial components are used in the construction of the Casspir family of vehicles.

Update South African [Denel Mechem] Casspir – In service with 10 African, South American, and Asian nations, the blast-protected Casspir is at the heart of a wide family of vehicles. Those include APC, Ambulance, Blesbok Freighter/Weapons Platform, Duiker 5000-liter Tanker and Artillery Fire Control, Fire Support Team, 15-ton capacity Gemsbok Recovery, Mechem Mine-clearing, Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System Mine Sensor, Mechem Vehicular Array Mine Detection System, Plofadder Mine-clearing System, Riot Control, and Mechem Low-Profile/ short-wheelbase vehicles.

Specification Crew: 2 Seating: 10 Weight: (combat) 12,580 kg Length: 6.87 m Width: 2.5m Height: 2.85 m Ground clearance: 0.41m Track: 2.07m Max speed: (road) 90km/h Fuel capacity: 220 litres Range: 850 km Fording: 1 m Vertical obstacle: 0.5 m Engine: ADE 352T diesel Power output: 170 hp Suspension: leaf spring Armament: 1 to 3 7.62 mm MG Variants: Blesbock, Duiker, Gemsbock

Casspir for Angola – 2014+

Angola has ordered 45 Casspir armoured vehicles from Denel Land Systems (DLS). The order is for the Casspir NG 2000B, which offers protecton to B7 and STANAG 4569 levels. It comprises 30 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) with light turrets for machine guns, four fire-support vehicles able to mount either a twin 23 mm cannon or a recoilless rifle, two command vehicles, two wide-body ambulances, two medium recovery vehicles, three logistic variants, one diesel tanker and one water tanker, as well as a spares package and initial training for drivers and mechanics.

Angola is believed to have selected the B-model because it uses a South African Powerstar 4×4 1729VX Model Euro 2 drivetrain that does not have electronic engine control interfaces, making it more reliable in African operational conditions. The `new generation’ Casspir NG 2000 can also be supplied with Euro 3- or 4-compliant drivetrains, and has been supplied with a Chinese drivetrain.

DLS has sold Casspir NG 2000 APCs to Benin (10) and to the United Nations (15) for use in Somalia, Sudan and other theatres.

Angola’s decision to buy Casspirs could be motivated by plans to participate in peace-support operations. Its forces have been conspicuously absent in this role, but Luanda appears to be looking to increase its regional influence, which will require it to participate in such missions. However, much of the Angolan Army’s equipment is either unsuitable for peacekeeping operations or extremely old and of doubtful serviceability.

Mamba APC

At first sight the Mamba APC resembles a somewhat bulky but conventional personnel carrier but it was developed not only as an APC but as a mine protected vehicle for operations in areas where land mines are likely to be encountered. It was developed following along series of mine-proofed vehicles specifically produced to counter the mine warfare conditions once prevalent along the South African borders and in the former Rhodesia.

The Mamba originally produced by Reumech Sandock, thus has an armoured underside with sloped plates intended to direct the worst of a mine blast away from the vehicle. The chassis itself is based around the use of Unimog components and the Mamba thus has a remarkable cross-country performance.

The steel upper hull can be armoured virtually according to requirements but is usually proof against small arms fire and ammunition splinters. The interior has the commander and driver seated side by side and up to nine troops seated in close proximity in the rear; entry to all position is via a single door at the rear or via roof hatches.

The commander has a roof hatch over which a MG can be mounted, if required, All occupants are provided with bullet-proof windows and the entire roof can be opened up when necessary The rear area can be readily configured to form an armoured ambulance or a command vehicle.

Other body types include a flatbed body for load carrying, to mount light weapons, or to accommodate a recovery hamper. It has been proposed that the Mamba could be fitted out as a VIP protected transport. The Mamba has been acquired by the South African National Defence Force and several other countries.

Specification Crew: 2 Seating: 9 Weight: (combat) 6,800 kg Length: 5.46m Width: 2.205m Height: 2.495m Ground clearance: 0.4 m Track: 1.79m Max speed:(road)102km/h Fuel capacity: 200 litres Range: 900 km Fording: 1 m Vertical obstacle: 0.4m Engine: Mercedes-Benz OM352 diesel Power output: 123 hp Suspension: coil spring Armament: 1 x7.62 mm MG (if fitted)

Enter the MRAP

Mines and explosive devices are hardly new to warfare. Massive mine fields were emplaced in every theatre during World War II and the Korean War while locally manufactured booby-traps were a common hazard faced by patrols in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. Generally these were un-attended and passive with their detonation triggered by the action of the vehicle or soldier that happened upon them. They were unexpected and deadly with adverse affects on troop morale which caused them to move more cautiously. They also were extensively used in Rhodesia and against the South African Defence Forces (SADF) in its incursions into Angola, Namibia and Zambia in the Border Wars from 1966 to 1990. In fact, the use of mines was adopted as the principle tactic of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) against the SADF. Mines came to define the conflict.

This tactical aspect of the South African conflict received little international attention by the major armies but it forecast the dominating role that mines and IEDs would take on in coming conflicts. It also offered some ready-made solutions for protecting against these threats though SADF’s development and fielding of armoured V-hull vehicles. South African developers, including the company OMC that perfected the monocoque hull, developed designs that resisted the blast of an explosion under the vehicle belly or wheels. Combining an angled belly, unencumbered hull form, increased ground clearance and breakaway suspension components, its designers were able to provide a series of vehicles that reliably protected the vehicle’s occupants. A key part of the design’s effectiveness was in directing the blast forces away from the vehicle’s welded armoured crew compartment (which became known as its `citadel’). The initial Casspir Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) design was introduced in 1980 and remains in service with over 22 nations. The design concept was further perfected by TFM Industries as Mamba and later expanded by OMC as the RG-31 Nyala MPV. The value of these mine protected vehicles was well recognised and they were acquired and employed in various United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The magnitude of the IED threat in Afghanistan and Iraq and the inadequacy of up-armouring efforts became evident and a team from the US travelled to South Africa where it viewed a Casspir successfully cross a live mine field.


Two approaches to V-shaping – the Casspir and the Mamba armoured personnel carriers.


Included Angle of the V-Shaping on Certain Rhodesian Armoured Vehicles.

To improve occupant survivability by way of reducing acceleration to the occupants, much of the effort has centred on the deflection of the blast wave away from the vehicle. And so, most modern armoured vehicles have V-shaped hulls to achieve this.

Blast defection through V-shaping was developed in the early 1970s by the South Africans. During this time, they modified a WWII-vintage Swedish SKPF M/42 APC by integrating a special-shaped steel capsule with a 43° V-shaped bottom (Hoffman et al. 1991). Generally speaking, geometry dictates that the smaller the included angle of the V-shaping, the more the blast energy will be deflected, and therefore, a lower vertical impulse will be delivered to the vehicle. However, the height of the vehicle will also increase with the potential to make handling and stability more problematic. Picture above lists some of the included angles of vehicles used by the Rhodesians. Notably, the Camel was named so due to its `ungainly’ appearance.

For vehicles where it is simply not possible to introduce a V-shape to the hull due to height and handling problems that may arise, it is possible to introduce a `double V’-shape (or essentially a `W’-shape). With this concept, instead of the blast being solely directed to the outside of the vehicle, a double V-shaped arrangement means that some of the blast is directed into the centre of the vehicle (Lee 2013). The blast is then spread fore and aft along the vehicle’s central axis using a suitably reinforced `duct’ that is concave downward. The deformation of the internal angled parts leads to a downward `pull’ on the central concave part thereby countering some of the upward impulse from the blast. Therefore, this provides a route to provide some meaningful blast protection in vehicles that would otherwise not be able accommodate a full `V’-shape.

A slight modification to this concept is the structural blast chimney method where a small (approximately laptop-sized) chimney is integrated into the centre of the vehicle (Tunis and Kendall 2013). This chimney provides a vent for the blast and therefore minimises the upward acceleration of the vehicle.

Different concepts for AFV hull design showing the pathways taken by a blast wave. (a) Flat bottom, (b) ‘V’ shaped, (c) Blast chimney concept.

General Techniques for Mine Protection

Other techniques for increasing the survivability in armoured vehicles can include using `breakable’ wheel axles so that the blast is not trapped by the wheel structure, energy-absorbing materials to accommodate the blast-wave energy and sufficient spacing from the blast to reduce the energy density of the waves in contact with the structure. The Buffel (a South African troop carrier) used some of these techniques.

As long as the occupants are sufficiently strapped down, and there are no loose projectiles to fly around the cabin, a principal factor to consider is the acceleration to the occupant. This is why it is often expedient to `insulate’ the individual from fast-deforming structures such as floor plates. However, where the occupant is subject to acceleration (due to the upward movement of the vehicle), or where the occupant is in direct contact with an accelerating structure such as a floor plate, then serious injury can occur.

Protection measures employed in an AFV.

roll over (or be shunted sideways) when being subjected to a blast wave. Angled hulls are also advantageous from a ballistic point of view. Having a decent amount of armour is obviously going to help survivability. The sides of hulls are particularly vulnerable to attack from IED fragments, explosively formed projectiles, shaped-charge jets and high-explosive shell fragments and, of course, bullets. It is also necessary to add a spall shield. These are generally constructed from glass fibre-reinforced plastic or ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene composite materials. Their advantage is that during a high-velocity attack, the diameter of the cone of fragments that is produced will be reduced. This leads to less lethality and greater survivability of a crew. The reinforcement of the welds is also crucial to ensure that the vehicle does not suffer structural failure during blast loading. Welds are often the weak point in a structure, and therefore, good quality control needs to be maintained.

A typical schematic of protection measures that are usually employed by an AFV is shown in pictures above.

In the same fashion that the V-shaping leads to an increased deflection prospect for blast-wave energy, having angled hull leads provide that advantage from a side-on blast. This can reduce the propensity of the vehicle to Additionally, it is beneficial to keep the occupant away from any dynamically deforming part – such as a floor plate. During a blast, the floor plate can be subjected to high accelerations that can lead to serious injury – particularly in the lower leg. Therefore, suspended seats and foot rests are used for this purpose.

Posted in AFV

The Bombing of the Sir Galahad

The arrival of the new British brigade and its subsequent move up to the front led to the worst British setback of the war. A series of night transfers by sea caused two British ships – the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram — to be left exposed in daylight in an undefended inlet on the south coast of the Falklands on the morning of 7 June. The place was Port Pleasant, ‘Bahía Agradable’ to the Argentines. The persistent low cloud of the last few days had cleared, and it was a bright day of good visibility. The Sir Tristram was almost empty, but the newly arrived Sir Galahad was packed with troops, ammunition, fuel and vehicles. The arrangements for disembarking the troops and removing them from the danger of air attack failed, and most of them remained on board all through the morning.

The Sir Tristram had been observed from Argentine positions on Mount Harriet, 10 miles away, on the previous day, and now, on this morning, the second ship was also seen. The report reached the mainland, and a sizeable air effort was ordered. Eight Skyhawks and six Daggers of the 5th and 6th Fighter Groups were loaded with bombs and sent by a southerly route to attack the anchorage. A Learjet would lead in the attack flights and provide accurate navigation almost as far as the islands. Preceding the arrival of all these aircraft by a few minutes would be four Mirages of the 8th Fighter Group, which would be making their first appearance in the combat area since 1 May. They were to simulate a low-level attack along the north coast of the islands; but this was a decoy flight, and they were to turn away and return to base as soon as they attracted the attention of the Sea Harrier patrols. Vice-Admiral Lombardo mentions a further small element in the Argentine plans. He states that the Type 42 destroyer Santísima Trinidad was off the Argentine coast that day carrying out radio interference operations on the frequencies used by the British air controllers.

The Argentine aircraft took off in the late morning, but three Skyhawks – including both flight leaders – and a Dagger turned back because of various problems. The Mirage decoy flight was successful and temporarily attracted the attention of the Sea Harrier patrols. The five Daggers were the first of the attack aircraft to reach the islands, but their eastward flight to Port Pleasant was abandoned when one member of the flight spotted a solitary warship in Falkland Sound. The Daggers turned and made a very good attack on that ship – the frigate Plymouth — and hit it with four bombs. But once again none of these exploded, although the ship was damaged, and four of her crew were injured. Only one Dagger was slightly damaged by the ship’s defensive fire, and they all returned safely to the mainland.

This left five Skyhawks to carry on and look for the two landing ships at Port Pleasant. The Mirage decoy flight and then the Dagger attack on the Plymouth left no Sea Harrier patrols available to intercept this raid, and the two ships they were seeking were almost defenceless. The earlier turning back of the two flight leaders left First Lieutenant Cachón, flying only his third war mission, to lead the now combined flight of five Skyhawks. Cachón provides an account which shows how the Skyhawks nearly missed their targets by being told that the ships were in Port Fitzroy, which was just north of Port Pleasant. Cachón’s account starts with his taking over the leadership of the flight when his own leader had to turn back: 27

I became flight leader. I had never had that responsibility before but now, suddenly and by chance, I found myself in charge not only of one flight but of two. Before he left, the Captain told me: ‘Attack at one minute intervals, three aircraft ahead and two behind…. Take them to glory!’ A very simple request, wasn’t it? I felt a chill run up my spine but then I felt calmer, because the men who were following me were perfectly qualified for that kind of operation and the success of the mission depended on my command.

The succession of checkpoints forced me to concentrate on the flight. Over Cabo Belgrano [the southern tip of West Falkland] we went through a rainy area for a few seconds. Then we crossed over the southern part of Falkland Sound. The sea was full of gulls floating calmly. We passed another checkpoint at Aquila Island [Speedwell Island] and then met a second area of rain, but we flew on heading straight towards Fitzroy. It poured with rain again for thirty seconds; during that time you can cover a distance of around eight kilometres. I was about to return, because I was afraid that the rain would cover all the islands, but fortunately we managed to see a clearance behind the curtain of water, and this encouraged me to continue with the planned course. As we got nearer to the target I ordered the flight to accelerate to 900 kph and stay right down on the sea.

Forty seconds before the target we saw a Sea Lynx helicopter, so I hid behind a hill to avoid being detected. Twenty seconds later we found a Sea King on the ground; we performed the same manoeuvre and then reached Fitzroy Bay. There was nothing to be seen! I decided to fly on for another thirty seconds, but after that we turned right to start the return flight. Down on the ground we could see many British soldiers, who began shooting at us. A missile crossed behind our flight line from right to left at an angle of about 30 degrees. Just as we were completing the turn, ‘Diablo’ shouted: ‘There are the ships!’ Two grey silhouettes could be seen near the coast. I straightened up and banked to the left. Here we go again!

I released my bombs, which scored direct hits on the Sir Galahad. Number Two’s bombs went long but luckily they hit a vehicle, overturned it and then they exploded. Ensign Carmona also hit the target. The section coming behind us saw that the ship had been hit so they attacked the Sir Tristram; ‘Chango’ and ‘Diablo’ did not waste their bombs. There was a long pipe on the deck where many life-jackets were tidily placed. Little men – little when seen from the distance – ran towards them, took one each and, one after the other, jumped into the cold sea.

I escaped by hugging the water. I checked to see if we were all there. We were. We looked at each other’s damage; the ‘Chango’ and the ‘Diablo’ had been hit but not seriously. The enemy had been greatly hurt that day, and I had carried out what my flight leader had asked me to do: ‘Take them to glory.’

Cachón and the other four pilots had made one of the best-executed Argentine air attacks of the war. The small amount of defensive fire had enabled them to come in at sufficient height to allow most of their bombs enough time in flight to become live, and the pilots’ aim had been good. The three bombs which struck the Sir Galahad exploded and started a fierce fire. Forty-eight men died here, and the ship was completely gutted. One of the two bombs which hit the Sir Tristram exploded, causing less serious damage and killing two Hong Kong Chinese seamen. This was all a considerable setback to the British preparations for the attack on Stanley and was a clear success for the Argentines.

When the Skyhawks returned to their base and reported the success, it was decided to send out two more formations of four Skyhawks to continue the attacks in an attempt to add to the damage already caused to the British. Four aircraft of the 4th Fighter Group made the first attack, roaring in over the British units deployed around Fitzroy. But this area was well defended, and the units there greeted the Skyhawks with a hail of fire from every type of infantry weapon and from Rapier missile launchers. This attack caused no casualties to the British troops. The four Argentine aircraft were all damaged, and, if the Sir Galahad attack was one of the best Argentine air attacks of the war, this was one of the most fortunate for the Argentines because the damaged planes only managed to return to San Julián by the narrowest of margins.

The last Argentine air operation of that memorable day scored a minor success but then ran out of luck. Four Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group found a lone British landing craft in the Choiseul Sound. The first two Skyhawks attacked, and a bomb and some cannon fire all but destroyed the small craft, killing six of the men on board. But a pair of Sea Harriers saw the attack and swiftly disposed of three of the four Skyhawks, a Sidewinder missile causing the first one to explode in a fireball, another Sidewinder cutting the second aircraft in half and the third aircraft crashing into the shore, its pilot trying to outrun and evade the Sidewinder chasing it. All three pilots were killed. The very shaken fourth pilot only just made it to a Hercules tanker which helped him home. Some Mirages flying as escort at 35,000 feet were unable to intervene in the action.

The Argentine troops on Mount Harriet observed the attack on the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram and saw the smoke from the Galahad’s fierce fire. News of the serious British casualties also reached Stanley, and some consideration was given to moving out a force of troops and attempting an attack on the British in the Fitzroy area while they were still unbalanced and recovering from the aftereffects of the blow. But to make such an attack would have meant leaving the artillery cover of the prepared defences and moving into an area under direct observation by the British, with all the response from British artillery and air attack which that would entail. It was decided not to make any move.

San Carlos Waters I

The air units on the mainland had been standing by for action for many days, conserving their strength since the false start on 1 May and absorbing the lessons learnt on that day. Some changes in policy had been made, and the full strength of the units available would not be committed in this new phase. The Canberras of the 2nd Bomber Group were now considered to be too vulnerable in daylight operations and were kept back for night work. The 8th Fighter Group, which only had eight Mirages left after the combats with Sea Harriers on 1 May, would also be kept back to defend the mainland air bases; their all-weather capability would enable them to intercept British air raids if these were mounted against mainland targets.

These changes left the Argentine Air Force with an estimated 62 available strike aircraft — 39 Skyhawks of the 4th and 5th Fighter Groups and 23 Daggers of the 6th Fighter Group. A small reinforcement of eight Skyhawks had arrived at Rio Grande in the form of the 3rd Naval Fighter and Attack Squadron, which had been disembarked from the aircraft-carrier Veinticinco de Mayo now that the Argentine fleet was confined to coastal waters. The pilots of this unit were well trained in ship-attack tactics. The Super Étendard unit at Rio Grande still had three Exocets remaining but this unit was only suitable for open sea work and it would not be used in the coming offensive against the landing area. The Argentine pilots destined for that battle would have to operate under most unfavourable conditions. They would have to carry out low-level bomb and cannon attacks, which would have to be pressed right home to be effective. They would have to operate over the sea, at maximum range from their own bases, without fighter escort and having to run the gauntlet of the Sea Harriers, which had already proved their effectiveness in combat, as well as the mass of missiles and gunfire put up by the British ships and ground forces. It would be a daunting task.

The attacks carried out by those Argentine pilots during the San Carlos landing period have been subjected to intense analysis – though not always with conclusive results — and have been described in detail several times. I do not intend to republish yet another step-by-step account but will confine my contribution to giving an overall view and providing personal accounts from some of the Argentine pilots who survived. In doing this, I would like to acknowledge the hard work done by specialist aviation writers on whose work I have drawn.

The main air attacks were spread over a period lasting nearly five hours, from about 10.30 a.m. until nearly 3.30 p.m. There were three distinct waves, each containing between fourteen and seventeen aircraft. The first wave consisted of eight Daggers from the 6th Fighter Group flying from San Julián and Rio Grande and six Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group from Rio Gallegos. A personal account from this phase is available from First Lieutenant Filippini, who was leading a combined Skyhawk flight of five aircraft after his fellow flight leader had to turn back with technical trouble. Filippini describes his attack on the frigate Argonaut in the northern entrance to Falkland Sound, just under Fanning Head:

When the Falkland Sound was in sight, one of my wingmen shouted over the radio: ‘To the right!’ It sounded like an order to me, so I banked and caught sight of a frigate. The ship detected us at the same time and headed rapidly towards a high cliff, looking for shelter, hoping to force us to climb to avoid crashing into the headland. Then we began to attract their anti-aircraft fire, which we could distinguish as a curtain of small red light beams formed by their tracer ammunition. The quiet island soon became hell. As we got nearer we could see this fire in the air in front of us and then passing over our cockpits, so we were forced to descend even lower to get into their blind cannon area, where we aimed to drop our bombs a little before reaching the target.

We concentrated on aiming. The ship, protected by the cliff 200 metres high, was in my sight, so I dropped one of the bombs which would cause its destruction. I felt like destroying the enemy, thinking of my comrades shot down by them on 12 May. I pulled my control stick backwards in a climbing turn, trying to pull over the headland. I felt a violent blow under my plane; an auxiliary fuel tank hanging under one of the wings had crashed against the mast of the frigate. Then I dived to escape by staying as close to the ground as possible and eventually I took refuge behind some hills. We reached the sea and then headed to our base at low altitude. As we flew past the northern mouth of the Sound, we could see the frigate we had attacked. A dense column of black smoke was coming out of its side; our bombs had hit it, and we saw the colour of the ship’s structure starting to change from light grey to reddish brown.

Very excited at this victory over our enemies, we broke radio silence with joyful shouts. Once the euphoria was over, I checked my wingmen apprehensively to make sure they were all there and safe. That was the happiest moment after the attack; thank God, the five planes which had entered the target area were all present.

Two bombs had hit Argonaut, but neither exploded because the Skyhawks were flying too low and this did not give the bomb fuses time to arm themselves after leaving the aircraft. But one of the bombs set off an explosion in the Sea Cat magazine, and it was the smoke from this which Filippini saw as he passed the entrance to Falkland Sound after the attack. Two seamen were killed in the ship.

The Daggers operating at this time caused cannon-fire damage to various ships and also put a bomb into the destroyer Antrim; but this bomb did not explode, and one Dagger was shot down, probably by a Sea Wolf fired by HMS Broadsword. Its pilot was killed.

The next wave of attacks came in two and a half hours later. Fourteen Skyhawks from three units were dispatched, but the six naval Skyhawks flying from Rio Grande met difficult weather conditions, had their orders altered in mid-flight and were forced to turn back before reaching the islands. One of the other formations also suffered two early returns, leaving just four aircraft of the 4th Fighter Group and two of the 5th Fighter Group to carry on. The attacks were not successful. Sea Harriers caught the 4th Fighter Group flight, shooting down two Skyhawks and damaging a third and preventing any of these aircraft from reaching the landing area. The two shot-down pilots were both killed. The pair of Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group, led by Captain Pablo Carballo, flew up Falkland Sound from the south-west and observed what they believed to be one of the British landing ships. Carballo’s wingman dropped his bombs on the ship, but Carballo held his back at the last moment because he thought something was wrong. He was correct; this was the abandoned Argentine ship Rio Carcaraña. Carballo then pressed on alone towards the landing area and finally encountered the Ardent, which was still in its solitary bombardment position north of Goose Green. Carballo describes his attack:

The effect produced by the compression of the air between my plane and the sea caused a constant beating on the bottom of the plane when flying so low, almost skimming the waves. It was much the same as the vibration one feels when driving a car over a cattle grid or a level crossing. In those endless two or three minutes leading up to the attack, I heard something on the radio that froze my blood. It sounded like the breathing of a person in agony, and I wondered how this mournful breathing could have entered my VHF until I suddenly realized that it was my own breathing. I looked at my chest, expecting to see it heaving up and down, but it looked quite normal.

Soon I entered a quiet area where I was no longer being fired at and I concentrated on the gunsight. When I saw the huge steel structure of the ship filling the sight, I pressed the trigger and felt the plane climb a few metres when the bomb released. I was kind of stupefied and dizzy, and this could have cost me my life. Suddenly, right in front of me, I saw the two pillars of the pointed masts against which I was about to crash. Instinctively hitting my control stick, I banked the plane and dived in between them, seeing one of them flash past my cockpit. Then I recovered my balance and started a slight turn left, mentally counting the seconds for the bomb to explode. When time was up and nothing happened, just as I was saying ‘I have failed’, I saw a dark cloud of smoke rising up to the height of the masts of the ship and pieces falling into the sea. I can’t really say for sure whether the smoke was caused by an explosion or by the launching of a missile, but I believe that kind of frigate doesn’t carry missiles.

I began to shout happily and levelled off. I had a very unpleasant surprise when I met another frigate, but it didn’t open fire. Only God knows why.

Then I made for the ‘sun route’ as we called it in our squadron, leaving the islands behind, heading west, with the tremendous satisfaction of being able to say we had fulfilled our duty and were still alive. I felt really well; I had fought against a fearful enemy with my veteran plane under the protection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. On landing, I was surprised to meet my supreme chief, Brigadier-General Lami Dozo, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, who had come to the south to see how we were doing. I remember he told me that we had to grit our teeth, as there was still a long way to go. How right he was!

Pablo Carballo had made a brave, solo attack but he was not successful. The evidence from Ardent is quite clear that his bomb fell into the sea alongside the ship. The second round of attacks thus ended with only this one Skyhawk reaching the British ships out of fourteen aircraft dispatched and at a cost of two Argentine aircraft lost.

The final burst of action, starting one and a half hours later, was the most effective of the day. Seventeen aircraft burst through to the landing area between 2.30 and 3.15 p.m. and in the savage action which followed, both sides suffered severely. Eleven Daggers and six naval Skyhawks had taken off, and all but one reached the landing area, flying in small tactical groups of three or two aircraft. Captain Robles was leading one of the Dagger pairs. Passing over West Falkland, he was unaware that his wingman was shot down by a Sea Harrier; he thought that the pilot — First Lieutenant Luna – had flown into a hill. Robles now joined another pair of Daggers and soon sighted the still solitary Ardent:

We carried on, swallowing our sadness at ‘Negro’ Luna’s accident. On the other side of Falkland Sound, over Grantham Sound, we saw a frigate close to the coast. As we started the attack we thought: ‘This will be for Luna.’ They started firing at us as we skimmed over the water. Captain Mir González bravely flew straight towards the masts of the ship, a path forming in front of his plane from his cannon shells. His bomb struck ten metres short, and up flew a mass of water which practically covered the ship; the bomb then bounced off the water and I believe it entered the hull.

Then Lieutenant Bernhardt dropped his bomb, which hit the upper and front part of the ship. When I was within range I dropped my bomb and, while passing over the ship, I saw a large piece of the rectangular antenna (which had been constantly rotating when we started the attack) go past my cockpit, whirling in the air. A missile aimed at one of the other planes went past on my right. I shouted at him to make an abrupt turn; he did so, very near me, and disappeared in the sky. As we were leaving, banking away to the right, the frigate was enveloped in an enormous cloud of smoke. That burning ship was worth far more than the plane and pilot we had lost. We didn’t know if Lieutenant Luna was alive, but I’m sure he would have exchanged his life for the success of our mission.

One of the bombs – the one dropped by Lieutenant Bernhardt — had struck the stern of the ship, not the forepart; the ‘rotating antenna’ blown into the air which Captain Robles nearly hit was probably Ardent’s Sea Cat launcher, which was blown into the air by Bernhardt’s bomb.

The six other Daggers in action at this time suffered contrasting fortunes. One flight of three aircraft attacked various British ships, though without inflicting serious damage, and returned safely to their base. But the final formation of three Daggers was wiped out, all shot down by Sea Harriers, though all three pilots ejected and survived.

The very last attacks of the day were carried out by six naval Skyhawk pilots, flying in two formations of three aircraft. Both formations flew up Falkland Sound from the south; both were ordered to attack the solitary British ship reported north of Goose Green – Ardent again, though that damaged ship was now nearing the protection of the main group of British ships further up Falkland Sound. Lieutenant-Commander Alberto Philippi was leading the first flight:

Our primary duty was to get that picket ship; if we could hit that, it would enable other aircraft to come in and attack the landing area. Our navigation was good, and we came in and made a good landfall. We descended from 27,000 feet down to 100 feet, closing up the formation because the weather was deteriorating, with low cloud and rain; the ceiling was 500 feet, and visibility was one mile. That was very dangerous for us, because if there was a picket ship at the southern end of Falkland Sound it would have picked us up by radar at fifteen to twenty miles’ range and launch missiles at five miles. Those missiles would have been in the air for four miles before we could see them. We had no radar; the Skyhawk was a very simple, old aircraft.

There was supposed to be one of our Tracker reconnaissance aircraft in the area. We were supposed to call him, and he should have told us where the ship was and directed us in. I called him twice but got no reply. The Tracker pilot told me afterwards that he was there but he couldn’t make contact. We went up the eastern side of the Sound – over lots of islands and bays. We ran into some clearer weather, and both myself and Lieutenant Area saw two masts behind some rocks about eighteen kilometres ahead.

I told the flight to commence the attack, but the ship started to move, quite fast, from behind the rocks; I assume that he was getting away from the coast to gain sea room and be able to manoeuvre at speed. This move meant that we lost the chance to be covered by the rocks in our approach. So I swung right in order to follow the coast, hoping that his radar would lose me in the echoes of the land behind us. If I had been on a freelance mission I could have jumped over that narrow neck of land and attacked the large ships in San Carlos Water, but I had been ordered to go for that picket ship, and we carried on. I could see that it was a Type 21.

We turned and, by the time we were ready to attack, we were in a good position because he was crossing in front of us and I could come in from his port quarter. I dropped my four 500-lb bombs – Mark 82 Snakeyes, each with metal plates to retard them. My number Three shouted out: ‘Bien, señor!’ — ‘Well done, sir!’ Then, a little later, he said: ‘Otra en la popa’ – ‘Another hit on the stern’; that told me that another bomb had hit, one of Area’s. We could not tell whether Márquez was successful; there was no one behind to report his attack.

The second naval Skyhawk flight was led by Lieutenant Benito Rotolo:

Our orders to get the picket ship were changed during the flight, and we were told to go for San Carlos Water; a Tracker aircraft had said that there was no ship in the south end of the Sound now. We went on in radio silence, listening to the conversations in Philippi’s flight; we were very interested in what they were saying about the islands, seeing them for the first time. We were still at high level; we couldn’t hear it all but we could follow their route. I heard them saying they had found a ship and were attacking. Then I heard them talking about Sea Harrier action. I heard Philippi say: ‘I’m OK. I am ejecting.’

Then we made our descent and started our approach. After hearing about the Sea Harriers, I went further inland over East Falkland to get among more hilly ground, intending to go over the Sussex Mountains into the anchorage at San Carlos. But I found that I was having to cross an open bay and was too far to the west. I couldn’t go to my right now, because of our air defences at Goose Green, so I broke radio silence and told my wingmen to be prepared to attack the first ship we met. They acknowledged.

Then we saw two or three ships and prepared to attack. I banked left to approach one of them from the starboard side. The two wingmen checked that they could also see it; it was about four miles away and it seemed to me that it was a Type 21; the other pilots say the same. It opened fire with its guns; I didn’t see any missiles. Its fire was opened very early; I saw the shots falling in the water in front of me. It also increased speed. So I used the tactics we had practised with our Type 42s — continually banking during the final stages of the attack. I was not hit. Then I climbed up to 250 feet and dropped my bombs. As I passed over the ship, I saw men running on the deck; others were firing with machine-guns lashed to the ship, not part of its proper equipment.

I went down fast – 250 feet was very high for that day; you feel very exposed. Our plan was to escape south down Falkland Sound, but I saw a County Class ship right in front of me, shooting off everything he had. We came upon it suddenly when we broke out into a clear patch, and it was all lit up by the sun. I veered sharply away to the right, then had to climb hard to get over the hills in the west island. I alerted the others, and fortunately they understood my short message and were able to turn away as well. So we all escaped, flying low level through the mountains all the way across the island. It was bad weather, but it was good to get away from the ships and all that fire. We were lucky.

Rotolo and his wingmen all returned safely, though the wingmen’s aircraft were both damaged by the blast of bomb explosions. These pilots had at least, like well-trained naval pilots, attacked from sufficient altitude to enable their bombs to explode, even if they had not allowed the recommended twenty-seconds interval between aircraft in order to escape the bomb blast damage to their aircraft.

One aspect of many of the accounts by Argentine pilots is a desire to be associated with attacks on the Ardent, the only ship to sink on that day. There was also an element of inter-service rivalry between the Air Force and the Navy to secure the credit for the sinking. The attack of Rotolo’s flight was squeezed out in the crush of these claims. Some accounts say that he attacked before Philippi and that his bombs all missed or that he attacked another ship, not Ardent. But Rotolo’s evidence is quite clear. He heard Philippi’s flight attacking on the radio and then being intercepted by Sea Harriers. He identified his target as a Type 21 frigate; Ardent was the only such ship in the landing area that day. He describes his attack as coming in from the ship’s starboard side. The captain of the Ardent described one attack from astern (I believe Philippi’s) which scored two hits and then a final attack being made by three light-coloured Skyhawks coming in one after the other from the starboard side, with bombs from the first and second of these aircraft scoring direct hits. I believe that Rotolo’s flight scored these final hits on Ardent and sealed the fate of the ship, which was soon abandoned and sank that night.

But these last successful attacks by the naval pilots were not achieved without serious loss. Rotolo’s flight returned safely to the mainland, but Philippi’s were all lost. That made seven aircraft destroyed out of the sixteen which reached the operational area in that final phase of the day’s action. One of Philippi’s flight – Sub-Lieutenant Marcelo Márquez — was killed when his Skyhawk was shot down by a Sea Harrier. A second aircraft, that of Lieutenant José Area, came to a bizarre end. After being damaged by a Sea Harrier it was still flyable but would not be able to reach the mainland. Area flew to Stanley and reported his difficulty. Major Iannariello, an air force officer there, describes what happened:

A Skyhawk approached the base with some damage to the hydraulic system which feeds such things as the controls, the landing gear, the flaps and the hook, and its fuselage was riddled with holes. We analysed the damage and decided that it would be too dangerous for him to land; the plane would break up and the pilot be killed. So we ordered him to eject over the sea and not on the land where there might be some minefields. We saw him go out, tumbling around in the air like a little puppet until his parachute opened.

To our surprise, the plane seemed to become alive and ready to play a nasty joke on us. For some moments it flew towards the pilot, as if to crash into him, then towards the town, then to the airfield in a lively and playful flight. It looked as if it were happy to be free from its master. Considering the damage it might cause, we ordered our guns to destroy it, but surprisingly enough and in spite of the aim of our gunners, it went on flying without being touched, as if the shells refused to hit a friendly plane. Finally it landed by itself on the beach and was smashed against the rocks with all the dignity of an A-4 Skyhawk. Its pilot was rescued.

Lieutenant-Commander Philippi describes what happened to him:

We tried to escape by flying back down Falkland Sound, weaving a little, hoping to avoid any missiles fired at us from behind, knowing that there were no English ships in front of us. Then, maybe one or two minutes later, I started to relax, engine still at full throttle, thinking that we were clear, when I heard Márquez shouting: ‘Harrier! Harrier!’

My first reaction was to order tanks and bomb racks to be jettisoned and to start evasive action at high G, trying to see where they were. While doing that, while only in the second or third turn, I felt a violent explosion in the tail. The whole plane shuddered and started to climb. I pushed on the stick with both hands but could not get the nose down; there was no response. I looked around, and the Harrier appeared on my right side about 150 to 200 metres away; I think he was coming in for the kill. So I told my wingmen that I was hit, but I was OK and must eject. I tried to shut down the engine, but it did not respond. I opened the air-brakes, but they did not work. I pulled the ejection handle between my legs with my left hand; I didn’t use my right hand to pull the hood release because, as aircraft-carrier pilots, we always keep lateral control; that is why I kept my right hand on the stick. If you lose the stick, the plane may start to turn, and if you eject when banking you go straight into the sea when you are low – so a naval pilot never leaves go of the stick. There was a huge explosion, and I was thrown out at 500 knots. I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes I was falling near the edge of Falkland Sound, quite close to where the abandoned Rio Carcaraña was. I saw a splash – either my own or Márquez’s aircraft going in. I swam the 200 metres to land but was so tired that I could only crawl up the beach.

I was out there for four days, the first night in the open, the second and third in a building called Congo House. On the fourth day I was walking to Wreck House when I saw some men working near the coast. They had a Land-Rover. I thought they were Argentine troops and I signalled with a mirror, but it was Mr Tony Blake from North Arm Settlement. He was very polite, introduced himself and gave me my first food – sandwiches, cakes and chocolate. We went to North Arm, where I met the family and had a bath. He was a very nice person, one hundred per cent. We informed Puerto Argentino next day, and I was taken by helicopter to Goose Green.

The last personal account of this day’s action comes from First Lieutenant Luna, the Dagger pilot whose friends thought he had flown into a hill. But Luna had been shot down by a Sea Harrier when the flight of four aircraft flew in single file through a valley when forced down by low cloud. Luna was in the last aircraft:

On entering the valley, I saw a shadow passing over me to my left. Almost simultaneously there was a flash in the mirrors and the impact of a missile on my plane; it became uncontrollable. I tried to gain altitude, but the plane was nose down and inverted. I thought I was going to die. Releasing the stick, I desperately searched for the upper ejection handle. That is when I found that I was right side upward again, because the ejection was normal. I heard the explosion, felt a jerk, and the parachute opened almost at the same time as I hit the ground. I broke a bone in my shoulder and dislocated an arm and a knee.

It was getting dark, and I knew I wouldn’t be found just yet, so I fixed my knee and gathered together all the means of survival. After inflating the dinghy, I dragged it towards me with the aid of its retaining rope, got myself inside it and prepared a bed with part of my equipment and the parachute. Then I drank a litre of water from a plastic container and swallowed seven analgesic pills one by one to soothe the terrible pain I was in. During that terrible night, half awake, I heard the noise of an engine so I fired a flare, but this brought no response. Clenching my teeth, for it was really cold, I fell asleep until about nine the following morning.

When I woke up I found myself in a valley surrounded by mountains, about 20 kilometres west of Port Howard. I looked for useful pieces of my plane and with the aid of my knife turned them into a metal splint for my leg; I must have looked like a modern pirate. Putting all the useful things into the dinghy, which I dragged with a rope, I set off. I can only imagine my odd appearance with my metal leg and my load behind. By 12.30 I could drag the dinghy no further so I abandoned it. I kept on walking, with great difficulty because of my leg, following the direction of the noise I had heard during the night. About 15.15 I came across a man and a woman in a Land-Rover followed by three more people riding motor cycles. I signalled to them desperately, but they continued on their way without a word, leaving me alone. My leg hurt terribly, and my shoulder was numb. Hobbling along with my metal leg, I followed the vehicle tracks. It became more and more difficult, but coming round a hill I came across a house with the vehicles parked in front of it. The people watched my approach. I thought they might kill me or hand me over to the enemy, yet I was aware that I would not be able to get anywhere in the wretched condition I was in. They came to me in the Land-Rover when I was about 400 metres from the house. At first they were unwilling to help me; one of them in particular objected vehemently.

I realized they were anxiously looking at my survival equipment, so I gave them my knife, the flight gloves and the torch. This obviously had a calming effect on them, and they agreed to carry me to the house of a man with a radio. This man turned out to be a true ‘English gentleman’; he looked after me and said he would help me to get back to my people. We contacted Puerto Argentino. After this he provided me with pain-killing tablets every three hours for two days until our people came to get me.

So ended the 21 May air attacks. The number of aircraft dispatched from the mainland totalled 45 — 26 Skyhawks and 19 Daggers ; 36 of these reached the Falklands and 26 carried out attacks on British ships. The Ardent was sinking; Antrim and Argonaut were temporarily out of action with unexploded bombs inside them; Brilliant and Broadsword had been damaged by cannon fire. Thirty-two British sailors were dead and more than twenty others were injured. The Argentine pilots had pressed home their attacks with great courage, but two important mistakes had been made. The emphasis on attacking the warships in Falkland Sound allowed the landing ships in San Carlos Water to carry on discharging troops, guns and stores in relative safety at a time when the ground missile defences were not yet established. The importance of this error cannot be overemphasized; the Argentine pilots would never again find the transport ships in San Carlos Water so vulnerable to air attack. The second mistake was that most of the air force pilots flew too low, with the result that their bombs did not explode. This is only a muted comment because attacks at altitudes any higher than the ‘on the deck’ approaches made by so many Argentine pilots would have brought them a higher casualty rate – but more success. The cost had been grievous enough. Ten Argentine aircraft – five Daggers and five Skyhawks – failed to return to the mainland, all but one shot down or hit by Sea Harriers; this was more than a quarter of the Argentine aircraft which reached the scene of action.

San Carlos Waters II

Nightfall came and brought relief from action and danger. The work of unloading the British ships progressed sufficiently to allow the Canberra and three other large ships to be released, and these were sent back to the comparative safety of the task force out at sea. The damaged destroyer Antrim also departed as their escort. The sailings of these ships provided room in San Carlos Water for the warships which had been left out in Falkland Sound exposed to air attack the previous day. In less than twenty-four hours the British landed all of their fighting units – more than 3,000 infantry, 24 field guns, 8 light tanks and a battery of Rapier anti-aircraft missile launchers.

The Argentine commanders at Stanley had discussed the possibility that the British might land well away from Stanley and had recognized that a direct attack against such a British move would be difficult to accomplish. Brigadier-General Menéndez’s first action was to request air attack from the mainland, and this had clearly been granted. Menéndez and his staff had always believed that the first forty-eight hours after a landing would be critical; after that the British would be too well established ashore for an attack to have any chance of success. The big question to be decided at Stanley was whether this was the main British landing or only a diversion. There were no Argentine troops in contact with the beach-head or even observing it from a distance. Future air flights over the area would have little chance of obtaining reliable details of how many British troops were ashore.

Menéndez ordered two immediate staff studies, the first a combined one by his own staff and that of Brigadier-General Parada – because the landing had taken place in Parada’s area – and the second by Brigadier-General Jofre’s staff, who, being responsible for the Stanley area, were not directly involved but whose separate opinion might be useful. A final joint conference then took place under Colonel Cervo, Menéndez’s chief intelligence officer. The conclusion reached was that the British had landed less than a brigade of troops at San Carlos and that most of a second brigade was still available for a further landing elsewhere. It was decided not to launch the helicopter-borne reserve; the single company of infantry available would have had a tough time anyway against so substantial a landing. The only direct move ordered was that some 105-mm guns would be sent by sea to Goose Green; the garrison there had no artillery. Two guns of the 4th Air Mobile Regiment were dismantled and loaded on to the Coast Guard vessel Rio Iguazú, which sailed from Stanley at 4.00 a.m. the next day.

But the next morning, 22 May, started with an immediate Argentine setback. Because of its late sailing, the Rio Iguazú was at sea when daylight came, still 13 miles from its destination. In an example of sheer bad luck for the Argentines, the first two Sea Harriers of the day to take off from Hermes passed right over the ship, and one of them came down and seriously damaged it with cannon fire. Two Coast Guard seamen were injured, and one of them later died. The ship ran aground, but a mission was later mounted from Goose Green to salvage the two guns and other stores. A helicopter lowered an air force officer, a young army officer and several men on to the boat, and these men went into the flooded cargo hold and reclaimed the guns, which were taken to Goose Green in time for the battle there; one of the guns was damaged, but the other was made serviceable. The young army officer will be met again. His name was Second Lieutenant Juan Gómez Centurion.

The fatally wounded Coast Guard man was the only person to die on 22 May. The remainder of that day was an anticlimax. Bad weather in mainland Argentina prevented air operations from the bases there for most of the day. Only two Skyhawks reached the landing area in the evening; their bombs caused no damage, and they returned safely to their base.

The next two days – 23 and 24 May – constituted another period of sundry blow and counter-blow. These started with the small coaster Monsunen (230 tons) being attacked. This was one of two local ships taken over by the Argentines. The British had learned — probably from radio intercepts – that she was sailing by night from Goose Green to Stanley, and two Lynx helicopters caught her in the early hours of 23 May. The crew of the Monsunen defended themselves well with machine-guns, but the ship was eventually forced ashore. She was later towed back to Goose Green but she would be out of use until the British captured Goose Green and set the ship working again for their side. The loss to Argentine service of the Monsunen now made a total of five ships used by the Argentines for local supply work put out of action by British naval ships or aircraft: Isla de los Estados, Bahia Buen Suceso, Rio Carcaraña, Rio Iguazú and Monsunen. This left only the large and unwieldy Formosa and the tiny ships Forrest, Islas Malvinas and Yehuin to carry on the hazardous work of transporting supplies to outlying garrisons. In fact there was not much further movement, and those minor operations by the Royal Navy were a major cause of the chronic lack of manoeuvrability suffered by the Argentine forces in the Falklands in the last weeks of the war.

The damaging of the Monsunen was followed immediately by another blow to Argentine mobility. Two Sea Harriers on patrol over West Falkland spotted a group of four Argentine army helicopters – three Pumas and an Augusta – which were carrying ammunition to the Port Howard garrison. The Harriers attacked with cannon fire, and two Pumas and the Augusta were destroyed, though amazingly no one was killed. The Argentine army’s helicopter force in the Falklands was now reduced to ten serviceable aircraft, out of the nineteen originally available.

But the main focus of attention during those two days continued to be on the San Carlos area, where the build-up of the British beach-head was interrupted by many Argentine air attacks. These raids all came from the mainland; the locally based air units were down to very low numbers of serviceable aircraft, and these were not risked against the now strongly defended area. The dangerous task of attacking the British landings was left to the Skyhawks and Daggers of the 4th, 5th and 6th Fighter Groups with a little help from the few remaining naval Skyhawk pilots. It is not known how many sorties were dispatched from the mainland during those two days but it is believed that only thirty-three reached the San Carlos area. The Argentine attacks became more ragged now under the constant pressure and strain of operations; more aircraft became unserviceable ; link-ups with the refuelling Hercules tankers did not always succeed. But the Argentine pilots showed no lack of courage and pressed home their attacks as valiantly as ever. Four ships were hit by bombs during these two days; again the attacks were from too low an altitude, and not one of the bombs exploded on hitting the ships. But the frigate Antelope, hit by two bombs dropped by Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group on 23 May, blew up the night after the attack while attempts were being made to defuse one of the bombs. Most of the ship’s crew had already been evacuated, and only two men died, but Antelope sank later, the first major success for the Argentine Air Force. The bombs in the other three ships which were hit were all removed safely, and they were not out of action for long.

For these successes, the Argentines lost six more aircraft — four Daggers and two Skyhawks — though the British ships and ground defences claimed many more. The Argentines named the area ‘Death Valley’; the British called it ‘Bomb Alley’. Four of the six shot-down pilots died. The 3rd Naval Fighter and Attack Squadron had to be withdrawn from action after 23 May. It dispatched four Skyhawks on that day; two were damaged over San Carlos, and a third suffered a calamity on its return to Rio Grande. The four 500-lb bombs had ‘hung up’ over San Carlos, and the pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Carlos Zubizarreta, could not shake them off. A stiff crosswind at Rio Grande’s only runway caused the Skyhawk to swerve during the landing. Probably fearing the explosion of the bombs, Zubizarreta ejected, but the Skyhawk was tilting and he was not thrown clear enough for the parachute to open and he died. The bombs did not explode, and the Skyhawk was later repaired, but the casualties on this day left this small unit with only one serviceable aircraft from the eight available three days earlier, and the squadron was temporarily withdrawn from offensive operations. This was a major setback to the Argentine air effort because these naval pilots were the best qualified for ship attack.

Lieutenant-Commander Zubizarreta’s death brought the number of Argentine pilots to die in those two days to five. Only two other Argentines lost their lives at that time. A conscript of the 12th, Regiment at Goose Green died of illness; the diary of a member of his unit mentions malnutrition, but it was probably the privations of open-air campaigning which caused the young man’s illness and death. The other death was at Stanley airfield, where an anti-aircraft gunner had the misfortune to be hit on the head by a piece of rock when a delayed action bomb exploded just as he was walking from his foxhole to the field kitchen for lunch; he died at once.

The British deaths during the two days were two men on HMS Antelope and a Sea Harrier pilot who died when his aircraft exploded and crashed into the sea soon after taking off from HMS Hermes on the evening of 23 May.

Tuesday 25 May was Argentina’s National Day, and a combination of chance circumstance together with the skill of Argentine pilots would make it one of the best days of the war for their cause, a day of glory comparable only to 2 April when they occupied the Falklands.

The early action of the day stemmed from Rear-Admiral Woodward’s decision to risk two of his air defence ships in an exposed forward position in order to give relief from air attack to the ships and land units in the San Carlos area. The two ships were Coventry, equipped with Sea Dart, and Broadsword, which was equipped with Sea Wolf. Working from an open sea position off Pebble Island, 40 miles north-west of San Carlos, the primary role of the ships was to give early warning of incoming raids to the San Carlos defences. But the combination of missiles and radars in the ships could directly engage Argentine aircraft at ranges of up to 12 miles and vector Sea Harriers on to other aircraft at greater ranges. The plan was working well. Sea Harriers had been vectored on to one raid the previous day, and three Argentine aircraft had been shot down. But the ships were clearly detectable by the Argentine radars on Pebble Island and could even be seen visually by the ‘air watchers’ on the hills there. The Argentine air command decided to attack these ships.

The first opportunity to strike at the ships was given to the 5th Fighter Group at Rio Gallegos. Careful preparations were made. The take-off of the four Skyhawks involved was before dawn, and the aircraft were all refuelled by a Hercules tanker, also during darkness, to allow them ample time to set up their attack in the combat area. Another Hercules made a preliminary reconnaissance, established by radar the exact location of the two ships and radioed this information to the Skyhawk flight. But this well-prepared operation ended in disaster for the Argentine side. The Skyhawk flight probably left its descent to sea level too late, and Coventry detected the planes and fired a Sea Dart which hit the Skyhawk of the flight leader, Captain Hugo del Valle Palaver. The Skyhawk crashed; the pilot was killed, and the three remaining aircraft decided to abandon the operation. (An early post-war version, that Captain Palaver’s Skyhawk was shot down in error by Argentine anti-aircraft gunners at Goose Green, was incorrect.)

Another raid against the beach-head area followed soon afterwards. Four Skyhawks of the 4th Fighter Group from San Julián made a good, indirect approach overland but when they attacked the anchorage the bombs of two aircraft failed to release and the attacks of the other Skyhawks failed to score any hits. The aircraft of Lieutenant Ricardo Lucero was shot down, but Lucero managed to eject and was rescued from the water by the British. His friends back at San Julián saw his injuries being treated on HMS Fearless in a television news programme that night. He was the only pilot from a mainland air unit to be taken prisoner by the British during the war. The formation’s ill fortune continued when the aircraft of the flight leader, Captain Jorge Garcia, was shot down by another of Coventry’s Sea Darts; this was the second formation leader Coventry shot down that day. No one saw Garcia’s Skyhawk crash, but he must have ejected and survived temporarily, because his body was found in a dinghy on a remote beach on West Falkland more than a year later. The remaining two Skyhawks reached their base, though one of them was badly damaged and losing fuel all the way home. Some extravagant claims were later made on this flight’s behalf. One of the returning aircraft had the symbol of a Type 21 frigate and the day’s date painted on its nose, and the dead Captain Garcia was wrongly credited with forcing a pursuing Sea Harrier to fly into the ground on his way into the target area.

That afternoon a further raid was mounted against the two ships off Pebble Island which were causing so much trouble. Two flights of three Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group were prepared, but one aircraft was withdrawn before take-off, and another had to return early. So just two pairs of Skyhawks proceeded. They were helped in their final approach by various interesting means. They were in touch with two senior Skyhawk pilots flying as passengers in a support plane, probably a Hercules, which was keeping distant radar surveillance on the British ships. They were also in touch with the Stanley air control, which was in turn receiving information from Pebble Island where a naval pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Daniel Manzella, was perched on a hilltop with a pair of binoculars and could see both ships and the local Sea Harrier patrols on this clear day. A Spanish-speaking officer on HMS Coventry was actually listening to the Argentine reports. The four Skyhawks approached in radio silence, taking in all the information broadcast for their benefit.

For once, the fortunes of war swung in the Argentines’ favour. The two pairs of Skyhawks came in almost simultaneously but from different directions. They were detected by the ships’ radars, but some malfunctions in the missile equipment and some tactical mishandling of the ships themselves prevented Coventry’s early Sea Darts from being launched and also stopped Broadsword from launching any of her close-defence Sea Wolf missiles at all. Worse still, two Sea Harriers which had been in perfect position to intercept were warned to break off and keep away to allow the ships’ missile systems freedom of action. Coventry only managed to fire one Sea Dart, but it was at too close a range for that type of missile, and the incoming Skyhawks cleverly avoided it. The gunfire of the two ships also failed to stop the incoming attack.

Captain Pablo Carballo’s pair came in first. Carballo had had an adventurous but frustrating war so far. On his first mission, on 1 May, he had attacked an Argentine merchant ship by mistake. On 21 May his wingmen had attacked another Argentine ship, leaving Carballo to carry on and make a solo attack on HMS Ardent, but his bomb narrowly missed that ship. Two days later another of his wingmen had dropped the bombs which were responsible for Antelope‘s subsequent explosion and loss. Now Carballo was facing British fire again, his third close attack on a British warship in five days, hampered this time by a film of salt which had formed on the front of his cockpit canopy. An air force biochemist had developed a special anti-salt solution for this low-flying work, but an overhelpful groundcrew man had polished Carballo’s cockpit canopy so vigorously that morning that the solution had all been removed. Carballo and his wingman, Lieutenant Carlos Rinke, commenced their attack run, low down on the water, running in fast. This is Carballo’s account:

The two imposing warships were surrounded by a slight mist, silhouetted against the horizon, far from the coast. I said to myself, ‘Things are going to be difficult, for we will be exposed to their fire for a long time.’ I applied full power, pressed the push-button of my VHF equipment, shouted: ‘Viva la Patria!’ and began my final run in to attack. I remember how small I felt when, with my solitary but sturdy wingman, I began to attack those huge steel structures. In order to deter us, they began shooting as soon as we let down over the water, long before we came within range.

Their shots fell well ahead of us at first, the shells forming tracers in the air and the water splashing, while the ships themselves were covered with smoke with every shot fired. For a moment I thought I was living through a film of one of those old naval battles. I could never have dreamed, three months before, that I would be undergoing such a terrible yet fascinating experience. The curtain of fire was really dense, for both ships gave us everything they had. I couldn’t see how close their fire was because I had to look through the side of the windshield.

My wingman asked me: ‘Which one shall we tackle?’ ‘The rear one; it is less well protected,’ I replied. The two ships had begun to move fast, heading east, sailing roughly 200 metres one from the other. When I could see the huge ship I was attacking through both sides of my partly covered windshield, I pressed the bomb release switch, probably taking a little longer than usual due to the difficulty I had in seeing. I remember that when I dropped my bombs, the other ship was still firing at me. I immediately asked: ‘Are you there, Number Two?’ and with deep joy heard him shout: ‘Yes, sir. Right behind you.

I can see you.’ Almost at the same time, I heard another voice on the frequency saying: ‘My target is in sight, and I am going in.’ That was the other two pilots starting their attack.

Carballo and his wingman had made a good attack but again he was to be unlucky. One of the bombs skipped off the sea and came up through the side of Broadsword, out through the deck, removing the nose of the ship’s Lynx helicopter, and dropped back into the sea again without exploding. This was extremely bad luck because a new type of nose fuse was fitted to the bombs being used that day, and if the bomb had hit anything substantial it would have exploded, at the very least causing serious damage to the British ship.

The second pair of Skyhawks was flown by First Lieutenant Mariano Velasco, who was also seeking some success after several disappointing sorties, and young Ensign Jorge Barrionuevo, who was probably on his first war mission. These pilots flew unscathed through the British fire. Barrionuevo’s bombs failed to release, but, in one of the best ship attacks of the war, Velasco put all of his three bombs into Coventry. They plunged deep into the ship, exploded and caused the ship to sink. The four Skyhawks returned safely to the mainland and to a big celebratory dinner. The unit had sunk one ship, damaged another and removed that British presence off Pebble Island which had been causing the Argentines so much trouble. The only pilot of the unit lost on an earlier raid in the day, Captain del Valle Palaver, was believed by his comrades to have had a good chance of ejecting safely over land, so his absence did not mar the celebration. His friends did not know that he was dead.

The story of the second major Argentine success of the day can be told more quickly, because there was no close contact between the opposing forces and because no personal account is available from the Argentine side; but it was just as important as the sinking of the Coventry, probably more so. The Super Étendard squadron had been waiting patiently at Rio Grande for the firm intelligence which would allow it to carry out another Exocet attack. That morning the air command at Stanley detected the location of the main British task force about 100 miles north-east of Stanley; the task force had been forced to come in closer than before because of the need to support the landing force under air attack at San Carlos. Lieutenant-Commander Roberto Curilovic and Lieutenant Julio Barraza were at the head of the roster and took off in mid-afternoon. In a perfectly executed operation, the two Super Étendards were refuelled and then approached the task force from the north. They detected the British ships at their first attempt, launched their Exocets and turned away, hoping as always that the British aircraft-carriers would be hit. One Exocet found a target when the large container ship Atlantic Conveyor was struck on its port side. The missile penetrated deep into the ship, exploded and started a fierce fire. The Argentine pilots had come closer to hitting an aircraft-carrier than they knew. The task force was always deployed in such a way that other ships were positioned between the vital aircraft-carriers and the likely approach of Exocets. Atlantic Conveyor was in the last row of those protective ships, and if she had not attracted the missile it might have run on into the aircraft-carrier area.

Thus ended a most successful Argentine National Day. At a cost of three aircraft lost, with two pilots dead and one a prisoner of war, the Argentine units had sunk the destroyer Coventry, damaged the Broadsword and caused the total loss through fire of the Atlantic Conveyor with its hugely valuable cargo of military stores and helicopters. Nineteen British sailors died in Coventry and twelve in Atlantic Conveyor.

But the successes of 25 May would prove to be the high watermark of the Argentine air effort. There were only two further small raids against the San Carlos landing area, by six Skyhawks on 27 May and by four Daggers two days later. The first raid caused seven deaths and some injuries to British troops when shore positions were bombed for the first time. Mariano Velasco, the pilot who had sunk Coventry two days earlier, was shot down on this raid but he ejected and survived. No success was achieved on the second raid, but another aircraft was lost. This time the pilot was killed; he was Lieutenant Juan Bernhardt, the man who had put the first bomb into HMS Ardent on 21May.

Those raids concluded the mainland air effort against the British landing area. In nine days of intensive operations, approximately 120 sorties had been launched, of which about 90 reached the operational area. Three warships – Ardent, Antelope and Coventry — had been sunk in or near the landing area. Three more warships and three amphibious ships had been hit by bombs which failed to explode. Other ships had suffered superficial damage by cannon fire. Casualties had been inflicted to land units in one raid. In addition, the Super Étendards had destroyed the Atlantic Conveyor. The pilots of the Argentine Air Force and Navy had done their best and were willing to continue the attacks, but the British defences were now so well established that there was no longer any prospect of achieving a decisive success that would influence the outcome of the war. The British had been severely shaken by the air attacks but they were now firmly established ashore and ready to move out from the beach-head. The Argentine losses had been appalling. Twenty-one aircraft had been shot down, nearly a quarter of those which reached the operational area. Twelve of the aircraft were shot down by Sea Harriers, eight by ships’ or shore units’ weapons and one by a combination of all three causes.

Unfortunately the Argentine propaganda service sullied the efforts of the air units by publishing outrageous claims on their behalf. The Gaceta Argentina at Stanley no doubt reflected the Buenos Aires line when it published a supposed list of all Argentine successes up to 25 May: 5 warships sunk (the actual figure was 3); 3 transport ships including Canberra sunk (Atlantic Conveyor was the only loss); 14 Sea Harriers destroyed (only 2 actually shot down plus 3 more lost accidentally); 12 helicopters destroyed (only 3 plus some accidents); many ships ‘seriously damaged’ including HMS Hermes (which had not been scratched). The Gaceta concluded: ‘All of these details refer only to proven claims and not to estimated or unproven claims.’

Air attack had been the only real threat to the success of the British landings. The Argentine Navy did not put in an appearance, though its Skyhawks and Super Étendard air squadrons had performed courageously and effectively. The powerful army garrison in the Falklands did not interfere in the landings in any way, not even with commando operations. After First Lieutenant Esteban and his men withdrew from Port San Carlos on the first morning, there was not a single contact between British and Argentine troops until 27 May when Royal Marines captured an Argentine marine officer who had installed himself on high ground overlooking San Carlos and was presumably reporting British movements by radio back to Stanley. The name of this brave man was Lieutenant-Commander Dante Camiletti.


The fighting that ended in 1949 erased Palestine from the map and destroyed Palestinian society. Over 700,000 Palestinians became refugees. Barred from returning to their villages, most of which were soon bulldozed by Israel, Palestinian refugees were dispersed among surrounding Arab countries, with a high proportion going to the West Bank and Gaza. However, new form was given to Palestinian nationalist identity by their common insistence on their right to return. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) played an important role in providing services, especially in education. Set up in 1949 to provide relief services, UNRWA gradually took on more responsibility in the fields of education and health. But the fact that the refugees’ livelihood was basically dependent upon the goodwill of distinct host states resulted also in Palestinian political and social fragmentation. For example, in Lebanon—where some 150,000 Palestinian refugees threatened to upset the delicate population balance on which the governmental system of proportional communal representation was based—more Palestinian Christians were absorbed into Lebanese society than Palestinian Muslims. Proportionately, the Gaza Strip admitted the largest number of refugees: its 80,000 inhabitants, who in 1948 came under Egypt’s military administration, absorbed 200,000 refugees. Only Jordan conferred citizenship upon the refugees: for King Abdullah, gaining control over the important Muslim shrines of Jerusalem’s Old City and bolstering his regional importance fully justified the annexation of the newly carved-out West Bank, refugee camps and all. West Bank resources and manpower tended to promote the development of the East Bank.

In 1964, the creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) gave Palestinians a new focus of political identity. Its charter called for a Palestinian Arab state on all the whole of mandate Palestine, describing it as an ‘indivisible territorial unit’ and declaring the establishment of Israel ‘illegal and null and void’. When the PLO was formed at the first Arab summit, many prominent Palestinians participated but they became highly suspicious of the organization’s evident subordination to Egyptian President Nasser. The organization’s effectiveness as a national institution was further curtailed by the opposition of Jordan’s King Husayn, who viewed it as a threat to his claim of sovereignty over the West Bank and its inhabitants. Meanwhile, other Palestinian groups were also organizing themselves with the aim of taking control of their own struggle against Israel. The most important of these groups was Fatah (Arabic for ‘conquest’), founded in Kuwait in 1959 and led by Yasir Arafat.

Arafat’s ability to move the PLO beyond the tutelage of Arab states and take control of the organization as a whole came as a direct result of their defeat in June 1967. The war seriously weakened the hold of Arab states on Palestinian activity, and hurt the legitimacy of the previous PLO leadership. In March 1968, Fatah launched guerrilla operations against the West Bank from bases in Jordanian villages. After an Israeli reprisal attack on the village of Karamah met fierce resistance by the guerrillas, who were supported by the Jordanian army, the battle of Karamah (the name means ‘honour’ or ‘dignity’ in Arabic) became a symbol of heroic resistance. Fatah’s popularity then soared, inspiring a rapid influx of volunteers, donations, and armaments. Wearing his black-and-white chequered keffiyeh (head cloth), Arafat became the public face of the Palestinian guerrilla movement. In 1969 he was elected chairman of the PLO (a position he held until his death in 2004). In 1974, at the Arab summit held in Rabat, the PLO received recognition as the sole representative of the Palestinians. And later that year, Arafat addressed the UN general assembly and the PLO was granted observer status.

Adopting the tone of contemporary radical anti-colonial movements, the 1968 Palestine Charter placed special emphasis on armed struggle as a strategy and not just a tactic and thus as the only way to bring about the liberation of Palestine. It rejected Zionism’s claims on any part of Palestine, acknowledging Judaism only as a religion, not a nationality. The organization’s embrace of armed struggle contributed to mobilizing Palestinians and attracted international attention to their plight. But the PLO was an umbrella organization and Fatah’s role, though dominant, was not uncontested. Given Palestinian dispersal, Arafat preferred to try to bring all factions, some of which had very different agendas, under a big tent rather than place a premium on discipline and obedience. His persistent failure to oppose the more violent approaches embraced by smaller militant groups (such as the terrorist operation against Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and the 1985 hijacking of an Italian passenger ship, the Achille Lauro, during which a Jewish American tourist was murdered) tended to undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian movement and solidify the image of Palestinians as terrorists on the world stage. It also brought the organization into conflict with neighbouring host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. The relationship between Arab governments and Palestinian nationalism was an ever-shifting one: generally, the regimes’ rhetoric espousing the liberation of Palestine was backed up by limited support or a desire to control the movement for their own purposes.

In particular, the relationship between the PLO and Jordan, where Palestinians established bases from which to organize guerrilla armed struggle against Israel, was volatile from the outset. It ended in disaster in 1970 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a component of the PLO which was determined to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy, staged multiple hijackings of international airline flights. King Husayn declared war on the PLO after accusing it of creating ‘a state within a state’, and killed 3,000 Palestinians in the process. Expelled from Jordan, most PLO guerrillas regrouped in Lebanon, where Arafat soon established a number of social and economic organizations and indeed relocated the entire PLO infrastructure there.

But its presence in Lebanon increasingly threatened the country’s delicate political and demographic balance. When civil war broke out in 1975, Lebanon’s Christian leaders were particularly concerned about the challenge the Palestinian ‘state within a state’ posed to their political dominance. They sought help from Israeli leaders who were equally concerned about the presence of PLO guerrillas on their northern border. In 1982, an assassination attempt on Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom provided the Israeli government with a pretext to invade Lebanon and expel the PLO from its power base in Beirut. In June, Israeli troops pushed up the coastline. They moved deep into Lebanon, occupying the south and then laying siege to the capital. As Beirut came under heavy bombardment, the PLO faced pressure from most Lebanese political parties to leave. In August thousands of Palestinian fighters were forced to evacuate, and the PLO leadership along with many fighters withdrew to Tunisia, Syria, and further afield. The following month, Lebanese Christian militiamen entered the now unarmed Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and, with the help of the protective presence and night-time flares provided by the surrounding Israeli army, slaughtered thousands, including women and children.

The costs of the war for Lebanon were staggering, and the regional repercussions of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon were also profound. Politically, an important new force emerged in south Lebanon. The predominantly Shi’ite Muslim community had initially welcomed an end to PLO armed operations, which had made the area a dangerous place in which to live. But Shi’ite resentment of Israel intensified as an Israeli occupation in the south took root. Israel had hoped that the expansion of a ‘security zone’ stretching 5 to 25 kilometres inside Lebanon would offer Israel a protective buffer. Instead, it quickly replaced one foe with another. On Israel’s northern frontier, the fight against occupation was now led by the newly established Shi’ite militias Amal and, later, Hizbullah (Party of God). In the struggle for control over their land, Amal and Hizbullah launched violent guerrilla campaigns assisted by Syria and Iran. Israel finally withdrew fifteen years later.

Reverberations of the Lebanon war were also strongly felt in Israel’s domestic politics. The invasion left Israelis deeply divided. As news of the atrocities dominated the headlines, protests against Israel’s role in the Lebanon war mounted, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin faced increasing pressure to form a commission of inquiry to investigate the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The commission called for the dismissal of Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, while public pressure increased on Begin to resign, which he did the following year.

For Palestinians, the fallout from the Lebanon war was also profound. In exile in Tunisia, the PLO leadership now looked out upon a very different political landscape. With very little to show for eighteen years of armed struggle, the focus gradually shifted to the pursuit of diplomatic initiatives. A new strategy developed, involving recognition of the existence of the Israeli state and envisaging a redefinition of a state of Palestine based on the West Bank and Gaza, and not on the whole of the post-First World War mandate territory. However, shifts in international relations at this time, in particular the end of the Cold War, threatened to lessen dramatically the PLO’s significance as well as its cause. Confined to Tunis, the PLO’s central leadership drifted, until thrown a lifeline by the 1987 uprising against the Israeli occupation, known as the intifada.

Following the failure of diplomatic efforts in the wake of the 1982 Lebanon war, the 1987 Palestinian intifada (which means ‘shaking off’ in Arabic) carried the conflict back into the spotlight of the international arena. Television images of Palestinian youths armed with slingshots facing off against Israeli tanks upended common international perceptions of a David and Goliath conflict. The intifada also fundamentally transformed political equations on the ground. More than a venting of anger at the Israeli occupation, the intifada was a powerful expression of the depth of Palestinian nationalism.

As the intifada gathered steam in the late 1980s, the PLO and the Israeli government were both forced to devise appropriate responses. Both had been taken by surprise by the scope and nature of the intifada. The intifada forced and empowered the Arafat leadership in Tunis to develop new diplomatic strategies based on a two-state solution. Eager to capitalize on the political momentum to gain international legitimacy, the PLO in 1988 accepted Resolution 242 and recognized Israel’s right to exist. Israel too was forced to respond to the transformed landscape. Searching for ways to disengage from the direct violence of the intifada, which was increasingly spearheaded by the militant religious group, Hamas, Israel initiated direct talks in 1993 with PLO leaders. After reaching an agreement in secret talks in Oslo, Norway, Israeli and Palestinian dignitaries were invited by US President Bill Clinton to sign the new accords on the White House Lawn. At the time, the event was considered a groundbreaking moment.

PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia worried about becoming increasingly marginalized. Inside the West Bank and Gaza, the protests comprised all strata of Palestinian society and gave birth to a new, young, and clandestine leadership known as the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU). Though composed of representatives of the main PLO factions, this local leadership encouraged grass-roots initiatives aimed at making the occupation an immoral and unaffordable burden on Israeli society. Popular committees were mobilized to coordinate acts of civil disobedience, including the boycotting of Israeli goods and services and replacing them with those produced through local networks, and to organize daily life with the eventual aim of achieving self-determination. With the political initiative lying firmly in the hands of Palestinian leaders inside the occupied territories, a certain tension emerged between the local leadership and the outside PLO. But the successful coordination of the political goals of the UNLU with those of the PLO provided salvation to its chairman, Yasir Arafat, and his fellow Fatah colleagues. Further validation of Arafat’s role came in July 1988 when King Husayn dropped Jordan’s claims to the West Bank.

However, the intifada also gave birth to a religious resistance movement that outright challenged the PLO’s authority. Best known by the acronym Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Resistance Movement), which means ‘zeal’ in Arabic, this movement was an offshoot of the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood had long been involved in religious missionary activities. When the intifada erupted, younger, university-educated leaders in the movement feared that it would lose support if it did not get involved politically. Initially encouraged by the Israeli government as a counterweight to the PLO, Hamas built on its long record of providing social services in the occupied territories and gained widespread popularity during the intifada. It vehemently opposed the PLO’s willingness to compromise on the partition of historic Palestine. Hamas’s platform sacralized the whole of what had been mandate Palestine, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a ‘state of Islam’. Crude and simplistic as its initial charter was, the movement’s popularity, and its ability to mobilize an effective network of institutions, posed a real challenge to Fatah’s authority.

For Israel, the impact of this rapidly changing political landscape was profound. Israel’s eventual success in arresting many of the UNLU leaders led to the gradual disintegration of the grass-roots networks, but not before their civil disobedience campaigns had effectively convinced many Israelis that the occupied territories could no longer be considered a secure economic or even defensive asset. The Israeli state’s initial decision to use the brutal force of an ‘iron fist’ to crush the intifada had only fuelled further rebellion while tarnishing the state’s reputation abroad as well as at home. Israelis became convinced that the status quo was both morally and practically untenable, and increasing numbers began to pressure their government to extricate itself from the occupied territories.

A further push towards some kind of political reconciliation was spurred on by Iraq’s 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. US forces, supported by a multilateral coalition that included many Arab countries, had little difficulty dislodging Iraq’s forces from Kuwait. During the war itself, however, Iraq launched scud missiles against Israeli cities, hoping to break up the coalition. These missiles, which Israel feared were equipped with chemical warheads, exposed Israelis to new threats and vulnerabilities, against which control over the West Bank and Gaza offered little defence. Furthermore, the war against Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait generated growing calls that the United States also bring an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinians. Indeed, following its 1991 victory in the Gulf War, the United States moved quickly to convene an international peace conference in Madrid in which all the states of the region participated (without the PLO). The Gulf War had in fact greatly weakened the position of the PLO. Arafat’s decision to side with Iraq dictator Saddam Husayn left him isolated diplomatically and financially cut off from further contributions from oil-rich Gulf countries: the PLO lost subsidies that it had previously received from the Kuwaiti and Saudi governments, and over 300,000 Palestinians resident in Kuwait lost their homes and their livelihoods. Israel effectively barred PLO officials from attending the Madrid conference but negotiators from the West Bank and Gaza nonetheless participated under the PLO’s authority. They gave by far the most eloquent speeches. Not only were Palestinian demands framed in reasonable terms, they were presented face to face to Israeli leaders for the first time. The Madrid talks otherwise achieved little of substance beyond securing a commitment from all parties to support an ongoing framework of bilateral negotiations. With the exception of the Israel–Jordan talks, which led successfully in 1994 to a peace treaty, the bilateral negotiations soon became stalemated. In these post-Madrid meetings, the main sticking point was Israeli settlement policies. The Palestinian delegation led by the ‘insiders’—leaders who lived and worked in the occupied territories—insisted on a settlement freeze.

The intifada’s operations against the Israeli occupation continued after Madrid. Yet they seemed to become more fragmented, more militarized, and increasingly overshadowed by internecine fighting. Then suddenly, in late August 1993, it was disclosed that a small team of individuals representing the PLO and the Israeli government had reached an agreement, while meeting in complete secrecy in Oslo, Norway. The whole world—including Palestinian and Israeli delegates in Washington who were gearing up for yet another round of Madrid talks—was astonished.

Chinese Type 59 series

After Mao Zedong and the communists took power in China in 1949 they obtained several hundred Soviet T-34/85s. These were used to equip a single mechanized division. After some delay the Chinese began to produce a copy designated the Type 58, but this was swiftly redundant with the appearance of the T-54. It is not clear if the Chinese ever had a full manufacturing capability for the T-34/85 like the Czechs and Poles, or simply conducted sub-assembly and refurbishments.

Initial Chinese perceptions of the utility of the tank were greatly influenced by their experiences in Korea and Indochina. In Korea the terrain had confined the North Korean tanks to the roads and they had proved vulnerable to enemy air attack. General Wei Guoqing, the chief Chinese advisor to the Viet Minh in Indochina, had witnessed how they had defeated the French without recourse to tanks. China’s most significant contribution to the Viet Minh’s war effort had been artillery and anti-aircraft guns, not tanks. The French had employed the M24 Chaffee light tank and the M4 Sherman medium tank which had given then little discernible strategic advantage.

Many senior Chinese generals saw little scope for the tank in the `people’s war’ again the capitalists. They were steeped in the tradition of the `human wave’ attack, as used during the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War. Besides, the neighbouring Soviet Union was a fellow communist state so there was no threat from that quarter – or so the Chinese thought.

In the 1950s Moscow supplied the People’s Republic of China with a number of T-54As. The Chinese subsequently built their own version, the 36-ton Type 59 MBT that appeared in late 1957. These were constructed by Factory N. 617 in Baotou in Chinese Inner Mongolia. The Chinese selected the location because it was a city built up around heavy industry, in particular steel. In addition being close to Mongolia meant that it was remote. Once Baotou became the site of a plutonium plant the Chinese had to disperse their tank-building facilities for fear of nuclear attack by America or the Soviet Union.

The early-model Type 59 looked almost identical to the T-54 but was not equipped with a main armament stabilizer or infra-red night vision equipment. Later models were fitted with a fume extractor similar to the T- 54A, an infra-red searchlight for the commander and gunner plus a larger one above the main gun, with a laser rangefinder just to the right of it. To arm the Type 59 China produced a copy of the D-10T tank gun but the Chinese designation for this weapon is not known.

Type 59 Main Battle Tank

Subsequent upgrades resulted in the Type 59-I and Type 59-II, the latter being armed with a 105mm rifled gun. outwardly the Type 59-I was the same but featured a simplified fire-control system and laser rangefinder, plus low pressure engine alarm and an automatic fire extinguisher. Also the cupola door cover and safety door cover were fitted with a hydraulic booster to improve opening and closing. On the Type 59-II the barrel was fitted with a distinctive fume extractor and thermal sleeve. The Chinese produced up to 700 Type 59 a year by the 1970s, rising to a rate of about 1,000 a year by the early 1980s.

Type 59 Armoured Recovery Vehicle

This consisted of a Type 59 with its turret removed. As it did not have a winch, it functioned purely as a towing vehicle. Armament was provided by a single 12.7mm machine gun. It is thought this ARV may have been a field modification rather than factory built.

Type 62 Light Tank

A derivative of the Type 59 was the Type 62 light tank, developed to cope with China’s harsher environments, especially hilly terrain and soft ground where the former could not operate. This was essentially a scaled-down version with slightly smaller dimensions and from a distance it was hard to tell the two apart. The layout was identical to the Type 59. The designers ensured the tank, armed with a shorter 85mm gun, had lower ground pressure and was 15 tons lighter than the Type 59. About 800 were built for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and around 500 for export.

Type 62 Armoured Recovery Vehicle

Some of the light tank variant were converted into armoured recovery vehicles. It is not clear if these were production vehicles or simply field conversions.

Type 63 Light Amphibious Tank

The Chinese Type 63 was based on the Soviet PT-76 light amphibious tank, so the hull and wheels bear no resemblance to the T-54. However, the Chinese version is noteworthy as it featured a turret similar to the Type 62 and was likewise armed with the same 85mm gun. Its roof though was flatter, had smaller commander/loader hatch mountings, no ventilator dome and single handrails either side. About 1,200 were built for the Chinese Army and a number were exported to North Korea and North Vietnam.

Thanks to regular border wars with India and the Soviet Union the Chinese had need of both the Type 62 and Type 63. The frontier with India is dominated by the Himalayas so is not tank country. In contrast the border to the north-east with the Soviet Union along the Ussuri River is very marshy territory.

Type 69 Main Battle Tank

A further development of the Chinese Type 59 was the Type 69 that appeared publicly in 1982, though it may as its designation implies have gone into service some years earlier. The differences in appearance between the two were minimal. It drew on the Soviet T-62, an example of which was captured in 1969, though it did not copy the latter’s 115mm gun. The Type 69 had a infra-red/white light headlamp arrangement that differed from that on Soviet tanks.

It also had distinctive cage-like `boom shields’ or `grid shields’ on the turret sides and rear as well as a bank of four smoke grenade dispensers on either side of the turret. The `boom shields’, consisting of metal louvres mounted 450mm from the turret, were designed to detonate HEAT warheads and developed as a result of experience in the 1979 war with Vietnam. Side skirts were also fitted to protect the upper track. Another distinctive feature was a semi-circular protrusion on the bottom of the rear hull plate to allow for a new fan copied from the Soviet T-62.

Although the Type 69 drew on improvements featured on the Soviet T- 62, it remained closer to the T-54 in design. The Type 69-I was armed with a smoothbore 100mm gun (this was slightly longer than the 100mm rifled bore on the Type 59 and has a bore evacuator near the end of the muzzle), while the Type 69-II had the rifled 100mm gun and a different fire-control system. The first variant does not seem to have been very successful and was superseded by the second model after just 150 Type 69-Is had been delivered. A Type 69-III or Type 79 was produced for the export market armed with a 105mm gun, but only just over 500 were ever built.

Type 653 Armoured Recovery Vehicle

This vehicle was produced to provide battlefield support for the Type 69 main battle tank. Whereas the Type 59 ARV was only a towing vehicle the Type 653 was much more capable. It could not only recover stranded tanks, but also conduct major repairs such as replacing engines, remove obstacles and digging firing positions for gun tanks and artillery.

It comprised a Type 69 hull and chassis minus the turret. In place of the latter to left a fixed superstructure was installed, while to the right was a hydraulic crane. The latter was mounted on a 360-degree turntable situated in line with the driver’s position. A hydraulic dozer blade could be fitted to the front. The main winch enabled it to haul up to 70 tonnes. The Type 653 required a five-man crew.

Type 84 Bridgelayer

This likewise consisted of a Type 69 with its turret removed and replaced with bridge launching system. The bridge of light steel folded in half with one on top of the other when in transit. This extended to 18m and could bridge a 16-metre gap. It could take wheeled and tracked vehicles weighing up to 40 tonnes. A hydraulically-operated stabilizer blade was mounted under the front of the hull and this was employed during the last phase of bridgelaying; it could also be used as a dozer blade. The Type 84 required three crew including the driver.

Type 80 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun

This was the Chinese version of the Soviet ZSU-57-2. It utilized a modified Type 69-II equipped with an open-topped turret armed with twin 57mm cannon. This had a vertical range of 8,000m, though it was only effective to 5,000m, and a horizontal range of 12,000m. The Type 80 had a six-man crew. During the 1980s the Chinese also built several prototypes armed with twin 37mm guns but these did not go into production.

Considerable quantities of Type 59/69s were cynically exported to both Tehran and Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War. Pakistan also proved to be a major customer for both models – these though proved unreliable – as well as Thailand and Zimbabwe. Small numbers of the Type 653 ARV were also supplied to Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan and Thailand. Drawing on these tank designs the Chinese went on to produce the Type 79, 80, 85 and 90 tanks. The Type 85-II was also built for the Pakistani Army. China produced somewhere in the region of 10,000 Type 59/69s.

White Bombs

Horvath, Robert T.; Two Whitley Bombers, Airborne; Yorkshire Air Museum;

Whitley B.Mk.V Unit: 77 Sqn, RAF Serial: KN-L (N1387)

During the early months of the war, the British Air Staff believed in and were determined to carry out strategic air warfare against the enemy. This concept, basically that proposed by the Italian General Douhet, was the conviction that such warfare, if properly conducted, would result inevitably in the enemy’s collapse. Specifically, it entailed bombardment from the air to degrade the enemy’s war-making capability: the destruction of his war factories and similar installations, perhaps his whole behind-the-lines economy. This had been the thinking of the Union General Sheridan in the American Civil War, when raiding columns were sent behind the Confederate lines to wreak havoc. Inevitably civilian lives were lost, but the same people thinking along these lines could and did reason that the workers who ran the factories and depots that supplied the fighting men were not only the real backbone of a war-making machine, but legitimate targets.

Since the Nazi No. 2 General Goering had been widely quoted as stating that guns were more important than butter, the Allied media soon followed the theme that as a result of such a dictum the German nation were suffering all kinds of shortages. And once the supposed British blockade was set up by the Royal Navy in September 1939 the propaganda and feature writers (including sundry experts) followed up with constant suggestions of a German collapse as a result. The facts were otherwise: Hitler was receiving pretty much all he needed from continental sources; only in a few areas was Germany still to some extent reliant on imports from overseas.

It is doubtful if the gentlemen in the Air Ministry believed the tales published; their whole raison d’etre was their desire and (they believed) ability to wage strategic air warfare. The problem in September 1939 lay in the Allied governments’ reluctance to upset the Führer by attacking Germany in any way. That the gloves were off at sea seemed to mean little, and even the RAF’s attempts to harm the German fleet at anchor were fruitless. The bomber, however, would win the war. The bomber barons were convinced of this, but wholly constrained by government edicts which prevented them from dropping bombs on Germany itself – which was why the German fleet was bombed in 1939, rather than the war installations on land. The government, however, seemed to have convinced itself of one fact, perhaps a victim of its own wishful thinking, which was that the German nation as a whole were much like the British: decent, hard-working folk who never wanted war thrust on them by the gangster leadership which had imposed itself on that nation. Appealing to the better side of the German people, a nation which had contributed so much to European culture in the past, seemed the proper thing to do in the circumstances; at least, Chamberlain and his advisers, no matter how disillusioned they were with Hitler, decided that at the very least the German people should be informed of the British attitude, of why the friendly chap with the umbrella who had become such a well-known figure to them had decided to declare war. Chamberlain had done this reluctantly, only after suffering the continued perfidy and aggression of Adolf Hitler, a man who could in no way be trusted to honour agreements made.

All this and more in the way of opinions from Britain would have to be made known to the German folk by way of RAF airmail – leaflets would be delivered, the only sure way to get the British message across, since the SS and Gestapo were constantly on watch for any who dared to listen in to Allied broadcasts. Accordingly, the peacetime-trained aircrew of RAF Bomber Command were bemused to see their bombers loaded up with bundles of leaflets, millions of them, measuring about eight by five inches and printed on cheap newsprint. The British airmen went to war over Hitler’s Reich, and, some would repeat constantly later, at least the resulting prolonged excursions did afford the crews much navigational experience.

The `white bomb’ campaign began on the very first night of the war, when the conflict was not yet twelve hours old. The aircrews were called out to fly further missions over six more nights – a solid week of `raiding’ the German people with British newsprint. `These preliminary operations were in the nature of an experiment,’ ran the Air Ministry account, `but by 16th September it was decided, in the light of experience gained, that they were a success and that the leaflet campaign should be carried on.’ And, after outlining in part the contents of such pamphlets and the great value in reconnaissance and experience gained, `they were carried out in all weathers; they lasted anything from six to twelve hours. As tests for navigation and endurance they had no equal.’

This latter point was certainly true, but, unknown to both crews and Air Ministry, the bombers often wandered far from their intended targets. Blundering about over a blacked-out Reich might be an unfair comment on the efforts of these brave young airmen who often endured much for no result – bar the experience, of course. `Ice could be heard coming off the airscrews’; `It was like lightning flashing in daylight all around me’; `The natives appeared to be hostile’. These were some of the aircrew comments quoted by the Air Ministry. There were many more: about the freezing-up of gun turrets and men, whose bodies began to ice up inside inadequate flying clothing; of aircraft thrown about like toys in violent weather conditions. Indeed, it was the terrible weather the airmen were called upon to fly through, rather than any enemy counter-action, which made these prolonged flights such a problem. Undoubtedly, and inevitably, poor navigation through the most rudimentary aids and the weather resulted in large amounts of paper being scattered across many open acres of German countryside.

RAF Bomber lands in Germany

The crews flew right across Germany, over the Bavarian Alps, to `leaflet’ Vienna. Then, during the night of 15/16 March 1940 they went to Warsaw in Poland to deposit seven million leaflets. During the long return flight one Whitley bomber came down in France, reason unknown. What happened to another was rather along these lines, as the pilot, Acting F/Lt Tomlin, related on 17 March 1940:

We were flying at about 18,000ft above a cloud formation, and we judged by our wireless instruments and estimated time of arrival that we could not be very far from home. We were very short of petrol.

I saw a hole in the cloud and came down. There were rain clouds covering the hilltops. When I came down to 500ft an anti-aircraft battery fired a warning shell near us. I put on the navigation lights, gave a recognition signal and put down my wheels. There was no more firing.

We landed in a field which sloped up slightly at each end. We unloaded the guns, stopped the engines, and all got out to go and meet the little group of peasants who were running towards us. My companion said to one of the peasants, `C’est France, n’est-ce pas?’ The peasant shook his head uncomprehendingly. `Luxembourg, alors?’ the peasant pointed to another of the group and said, `Franzosisch [French].’ The officer approached the other peasant and asked again, `C’est France, n’est-ce pas?’ The peasant said in French, with a strong German accent, `No sir, this is Germany; the frontier is about twenty miles away,’ and he pointed west.

Like one man we turned and bolted for the machine. Other figures were hurrying towards us from the far end of the field. We started the engines in a flash, and without pausing to thank anybody we got going. The rear gunner reports that the people at the other end of the field opened fire on us as we were taking off.

We did not land again until we were quite sure we were in France. The first certain clue we had was an advertisement for a certain French aperitif. Even when we did land, four of us stayed in the machine with the engines running and the guns still loaded, while we called on our French-speaking expert to make certain. In all we were on German soil for fully fifteen minutes.

Acting F/Lt Tomlin was Mentioned in Despatches on 20th February 1940 and was awarded the DFC while carrying the same rank on 17th May 1940; the citation was joint one with a number of other members of Bomber Command. “These officers and NCO’s have made a large number of reconnaissance and bombing raids over enemy country and over enemy air and naval bases. One officer, compelled to land owing to shortage of petrol after a flight over Warsaw, found he was in Germany. Despite the smallness of the field and petrol shortage he managed to take off again and save both aircraft and crew. Another officer pressed home a low bombing attack on the German cruiser Admiral Soheer in Schillig Roads last Sepember. One of the NCO’s obtained a direct hit on a submarine in Heligoland Bight, Two others did valuable work in attacks on enemy submarines.” The reference to landing in Germany is to Tomlin. On 15/16th March 1940 Brian Tomlin was the pilot of Whitley N1387, on the return from Ops to Warsaw, Poland while flying in bad weather the crew believed they were over France and selected a large field where they made a good landing with the wheels down. The crew left the aircraft to find out where they were but soon realised they were in Germany and as German troops approached a quick take off was executed under rifle fire. They crossed the border and were able to find a French airfield and safety.

Luftwaffe pilots and crew exhaustion in the Battle of Britain

“Target London”

”This is the best Luftwaffe bomber painting I have ever seen…it captures the atmosphere exactly”

Hajo Herrmann K.C.O.S.

In September 1940, the final phase of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe turned its attention away from the RAF’s airfields and made London its target. This fascinatingly detailed painting depicts a devastating raid which took place on September 15th when more than one hundred Heinkel 111 and Dornier bombers swarmed over the docklands and the East End. Believing the RAF to be down to their last 50 fighters, the Luftwaffe had not expected much opposition, and so were greatly surprised to be met by no fewer than 28 squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires. One He111 of KG53 is seen here having been hit, before struggling back to France. Many others were not so fortunate and, by the end of the day, the German losses were so great that Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain indefinitely.

Luftwaffe pilots were given leave, but usually only after a number of months in the front line. By the second week of October, Siegfried Bethke was one of only four pilots remaining from those far-off days of May, and one of those was home on leave. Several of the new pilots he had sent back for being ‘too soft’. One of the other originals was struggling with Kanalkrankheit – the combat fatigue version. ‘Rothkirch is not adding up,’ he noted – he had flown just eight missions in two months. ‘He’s always “sick”. A pathetic figure.’ A few days later, Hauptmann Helmut Wick returned from Berlin, where he had been awarded the Eichenlaub – ‘Oak Leaves’ – to his Knight’s Cross, an award given for forty victories. Hitler himself had placed it around his neck. Wick reported back all that he had been told. Both Hitler and Göring, he said, still hoped the Luftwaffe would completely destroy the British fighters in a few days of good weather. Siegfried thought that impossible. ‘It is also hoped,’ he noted, recording much of what Wick had told him, ‘that through the blockade, there will be serious disruptions to supplies in England. Unfortunately, not enough submarines off the west coast of England.’

At Coquelles, as losses mounted, the evening debates were becoming increasingly tense. It was not helping these young pilots to endlessly discuss tactics at night. With leave so infrequent, they needed to use the time off from operations to try and put the fighting to one side and relax – but there was little chance for that, it seemed. The biggest complaints came from the NCO pilots, who felt strongly that too many of the commanders were glory hunters only interested in getting medals. It did not seem fair to them that awards should only be handed out for aerial victories, when it often took more bravery to sit at the back of the formation, keeping watch over the glory boys’ backsides. Ulrich had quite a lot of sympathy – he had never thought much of the special treatment given to men like Dolfo Galland.

Of greater concern to him as a senior member of the Staffel was the loss of pilots as well as the shortage of aircraft. At the beginning of the western campaign, their Gruppe had had thirty-six experienced pilots with at least three years in the Luftwaffe under their belts. Now they were getting new boys straight from fighter school, and unlike in Fighter Command, there was no structure in place by which they could be given further training before being thrown into the front line. He and Kühle did their best to take care of these fledglings until they had acquired a bit more experience but this was not always possible.

At the end of September, a new NCO pilot arrived with minimal flying time and only a tiny amount of air-to-ground gunnery. He had never flown using oxygen and had no idea how to use his radio. Ulrich gave him around ten hours of extra ‘tuition’, taking him and some of the other new boys out across the Channel to shoot at shadows or at the old lighthouse at Dungeness. But they could not be kept off operations for ever so Ulrich took his particular charge and made him his wingman. Climbing out over the Channel, the Gefreiter struggled to keep up and it was clear he had no idea how to manage his propeller pitch control. Eventually, Kühle ordered him home, but instead of heading for France, the new boy made for Dover. Ulrich raced after him, catching up just before they reached the balloon barrage. Only by violently rocking his wings did Ulrich manage to make him understand, and then he led him back. It was one of only two missions he missed all through the battle. ‘They were supposed to be replacements,’ noted Ulrich, ‘but in the event they were more of a problem for us than reinforcement for the Staffel.’

This simply put greater pressure on the more experienced ones. There were increasingly more cases of Kanalkrankheit in the 2nd Staffel too. Ulrich had noticed that Oberfeldwebel Grosse, a Condor Legion veteran, had begun to fly back home more and more frequently with ‘engine trouble’. ‘It seemed you could just wear out like any other machine,’ noted Ulrich. ‘And that is where things were going wrong; we just weren’t getting a break.’

It was much the same for the bomber crews. Hajo Herrmann bombed the port at Great Yarmouth on 5 October, then London three nights later, and the night after that, and the night after that. And again two nights later and for another three nights on the trot. By 18 October, he had carried out twenty-one attacks on London alone, and nearly ninety combat missions since the start of the war, a truly astonishing number, and way, way more than his British counterparts would ever have been expected to fly. That night, as he took off with two 1,000 kg bombs beneath him, his left tyre shredded on some bomb splinters that had not been cleared after an earlier attack by Bomber Command, and he crashed, wrecking the aircraft. Fortunately the bombs did not explode, but Hajo was pulled from the wreckage unconscious. He had broken a lumbar vertebra and strained another and suffered some cuts and concussion. When he came to he wept uncontrollably. ‘Why, I don’t know.’ Then he spotted a Knight’s Cross on the bedside lamp. The doctor told him the Reichsmarschall had personally awarded it to him three days earlier. He had forgotten the occasion completely.

Peter Stahl was flying over London almost as often as Hajo, and often three nights running, something that would never have been demanded of Bomber Command crews. His Staffel was also struggling with inexperienced new crews. On 16 October, during yet another night attack on London, four crews failed to return and two crashed on landing, although the men escaped alive. But six aircraft out of nine was a terrible night of losses. In the bus back to their quarters afterwards they discussed what point there was in sending out hundreds of aircrews every night without any hope of reasonable results. ‘And tomorrow,’ noted Peter, ‘the communiqué of the OKW will state that our brave aircrews have flown another major operation and despite bad weather conditions, have inflicted devastating blows on various vital targets. Our own losses were only “minimal”!’

There was no leave for Hans-Ekkehard Bob either, who as a Staffel commander was very much expected to lead the way. On constant front-line duty since the opening of the western campaign, he had now been given even greater responsibilities, for on 2 October Kesselring had visited JG 54 and ordered Trautloft to form one of his Staffeln from each Gruppe into a Jagdbomber – fighter-bomber – unit, and from the third Gruppe had chosen Hans’s 7th Staffel for the task. The Jabo pilots – as they were known – of Erpro 210 had all been carefully trained in such operations, but Hans and his pilots had never ever carried out such a task; many doubted it was really possible. There was only one way to find out, and Hans opted to be the first to try and fly with a 250 kg bomb strapped underneath the plane. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but worked. The key now was to get the men trained as Jabos as quickly as possible. On 4 October, four of Trautloft’s best pilots, Hans included, took off for a practice mission to Dungeness – the ruined lighthouse was becoming a favoured marker for the Luftwaffe pilots. The results were not encouraging, but after more practice it was decided that attacking in a low, shallow dive produced the least inaccurate results. Hans later bombed Tilbury Docks in London, but the Jabos were not really very effective. The Me 109 was simply not designed for such a role and the pilots had not been given enough training. Even experienced Experten like Hans could not suddenly become fighter-bomber marksmen overnight.

The fighting continued – the Luftwaffe lost 379 aircraft in October and Fighter Command 185 – but the Germans were further away than ever from achieving air superiority. On 4 October, after all the blistering air battles of September, Fighter Command had, for the first time, more than 700 fighters ready to take to the skies. The Germans could keep coming over all they liked, but they were not going to win. Neither Göring nor Hitler had any idea of the true strength of Fighter Command, but they now began to accept that the great battle against Britain had failed – for 1940, at any rate. On 12 October, Hitler finally postponed SEALION until the following spring. Naval personnel and shipping were to be released, tugs and barges returned to their normal, much-needed roles, although many of the divisions allocated for the invasion were to remain along the coastal areas. All that effort, all that cost; it had come to nothing. Air operations over Britain would continue, especially the night bombing, but Hitler was now ever more set upon his next course of action. If Britain could not be brought to heel now, then she would once the Soviet Union had been absorbed into the Third Reich.

Last Flight

On the last Sunday in October, the 27th, Ulrich Steinhilper woke up early. His tent smelled musty, and it was cold; winter was on its way. With some effort, he pulled back the blankets and got up, staggering over to the makeshift washstand. He looked tired, he knew, his eyes dark, his cheeks thin. But he was tired. He had flown over 150 combat missions over England. On one day he had even flown seven sorties, excessive even by Luftwaffe standards.

He was on Early Alarm, which meant being at dispersal by dawn, mercifully later now that the days were rapidly shortening. Having shaved, he dressed, putting his trousers and shirt straight over his pyjamas, then with two others drove over to dispersal. A low mist hung over the greying stubble fields that were their runways. Smells of coffee and food came from the tented camp at one side of the airfield. Groundcrews stamped feet and rubbed hands to keep warm, while pilots smoked cigarettes.

Helmut Kühle, Ulrich’s Staffelkapitän, suddenly drove up in his car, having been to the morning briefing. ‘Protect the fighter-bombers,’ he told the waiting pilots. ‘Target London. Take off 09.05 hours.’

Ulrich now hurried over to his plane, Yellow 2, with its five stripes on the tail, one stripe for each of his victories. His mechanic, Peter, was already waiting for him on the port wing. Clambering up, Ulrich put on his harness with Peter’s help, then clambered into the tight cockpit. Reaching for the starter lever, he felt the aircraft rock gently as Peter began to wind up the eclipse starter before it could be engaged, so turning over the Daimler-Benz 601 engine. Pulling the starter, Ulrich felt the engine roar into life and then set the throttle lightly forwards so that he could complete his start-up checks. The other eight remaining Me 109s were all running now, then they began to emerge from their camouflaged dispersal pens. This was all that could be mustered from the entire Gruppe.

As he finished his taxi, Ulrich glanced around him, then pushed the throttle on to full power and felt the Messerschmitt surge forward. He lifted the tail as the machine bumped over the rough field, Yellow 2 bounced a little, then suddenly the jolting stopped as the plane became airborne. Retracting the undercarriage, he waited a few moments whilst his speed increased, then eased back the control column and began to climb away. Looking either side of him, he watched the position of the others and then they began to tighten up for the climb.

They met cloud over Kent, but as they approached London the sky cleared, just as the met officer had predicted. Everyone began scanning the sky, but nothing could be seen – yet. The engine in front of him throbbed rhythmically. It was noisy in any fighter, but with his headphones strapped close to his ears it became such a constant background thrum that he might as well have been flying in silence; and the silence in his headset only added to the tension he felt as he waited for the moment the British fighters would be spotted.

Ulrich continued searching the sky behind, in front, either side, below, but especially above. Suddenly a voice full of static crackled in his ear, ‘Raven calling! Raven calling! Eleven o’clock high! Eleven o’clock high. Condensation trails, same course.’ Ulrich looked up and saw them now, about 3,000 feet above, to their left, the vivid white contrails clear against the deep blue. The fighting had got higher in recent weeks. The Gruppe were already at 32,000 feet, which meant the Spitfires were now at 35,000, an incredible height. It was hard flying at those heights. The 109 did not like it and the pilots had to constantly change the propeller pitch and throttle to improve performance: with a fine pitch, they could increase the RPM and get more pressure from the engine’s supercharger, but by then switching to coarse pitch they could make up some speed, which was essential if they were to keep up with the rest of the formation.

But there was something up with Yellow 2. Ulrich was struggling to change pitch. Most probably condensation had begun to collect in the grease of the pitch-changing gear during the cold nights of the past week, and now, at 32,000 feet, it had frozen, which had affected the pitch control. For a moment, Ulrich thought about turning back but then dismissed the idea, opting instead to keep the pitch fine and run the engine at high revs and rely on the supercharger to help maintain speed. It meant the engine would be running at a level higher than the recommended RPM, but that happened all the time in combat. In any case, having made his decision to fly on, he did not have any other choice.

A pattern had emerged in this latest phase of the air battle. The Luftwaffe’s planes would assemble and set course for London. The Tommies, meanwhile, warned of the approaching raid, would climb up high and wait for them. They would then patrol the sky, and just as the German formations turned for home at their tactically weakest point and at the limit of the fighters’ range, they would pounce, from height with the sun behind them. Now, as the moment to turn for home approached, Ulrich waited for the order with increasing trepidation.

The Jabos began their attack, the radio suddenly full of chatter until there were so many different voices that the noise merged into a jarring whistling. Moments later and the formation was turning, but to the left, rather than the right, as they had been expecting. The eight machines of I/JG 52 quickly manoeuvred into their Rotte position, Ulrich’s wingman, Lothar Schieverhöfer, moving in beside and behind him. Suddenly someone shouted, ‘Out of the sun! Out of the sun!’ and Ulrich swivelled and craned his neck upwards to see a number of Spitfires diving down towards Lothar. Ulrich shouted out a warning and tried to move to protect his tail, only to see him doing the same. Behind, at least four Spitfires were stepped up, each lining up to fire. Ulrich now dived away, his revs way too high, so at 22,000 feet he levelled out, eyeing a safe-looking bank of cloud below. He was wondering whether Lothar had got away when suddenly there was a loud bang as something exploded on the left side of his machine, and as something clattered into his elevator his stick shook in his hands. Frantically looking around, he could see no sign of the enemy so decided it must have been his supercharger that had blown. Glancing at his instrument panel, he saw everything still appeared to be working, but his oil pressure was dropping dramatically. Air speed was around 400 mph in his shallow dive and he was still able to weave from side to side, so he pushed the stick forward, put the nose down, and dived down towards the cloud layer, reaching the milky mass at around 6,000 feet. Moments later he was out into the blindingly bright sun, but at least it enabled him to get a fix. If he was on course for home, the sun should have been ahead and slightly to the right, and so it was, so he slipped back into the protective shroud of the cloud.

He checked his instruments again and everything still seemed to be in order apart from the oil loss, but just as he was beginning to breathe a little more easily, he slid out of the cloud again and was horrified first to see the Thames estuary below – he thought he had made more distance – and then in front and slightly below him a formation of Hurricanes. Deciding attack was his only option, he checked the lights that told him his guns were armed and ready, then seeing four green lights switched on the gunsight. But this was not working – there was too much ice on the windscreen from his long dive. He would have to use the metal emergency sight, but as he removed his oxygen mask, he was suddenly gripped with fear – his engine was beginning to boil and if it came to a tussle he was not sure how long his machine would keep flying. Gently, and very slowly, he climbed back into the cloud.

His engine temperature was now 130 degrees. He could not understand why it was so high; his engine was losing oil, but that would not affect the cooling system. He was sure he had dived before the Spitfires had opened fire, but a bullet in the radiator seemed the only cause of his rapidly rising temperature gauge. ‘This is Owl 2a,’ he called over the radio, ‘have been hit in the radiator, will try to reach the Channel. Taking course from Thames to Manston. Please confirm.’ But there was no reply – just a hiss of static.

At 6,000 feet once more, and still in cloud, he switched off the engine, so that he was now gliding and blind flying. At 4,000 feet he emerged through the cloud once more, but still he continued his glide and decided to try another radio call. This time the ground station in the Pas de Calais replied. ‘Understood Owl 2a. Air-Sea Rescue will be notified. Only go into the water when absolutely necessary.’ He now heard Kühle’s voice too, telling him he would start searching the Channel immediately while the others would return, refuel then continue the search if necessary. Ulrich felt his spirits lift.

Now, at around 1,600 feet, he began to attract some light flak, so he decided it was time to restart the engine. It whirred into life immediately and he began to climb once more, the oil temperature still under control. In the clouds, he transmitted another fix to the ground station, but by now the temperature was beginning to rise alarmingly again so he cut the engine once more, hoping to repeat Hans-Ekkehard Bob’s trick of ‘bobbing’ back across the Channel.

But the engine’s power was fading, and he was soon struggling to gain any height at all. He had to open the throttle further – there was no alternative – but as he did so, the engine seized. There was no bang, no sudden explosion – just silence. With his machine dead, he knew he would have to jump. Having sent a last message, he briefly wondered whether he should perhaps try and crash-land instead but then madly decided he must not let his machine fall into enemy hands. No, bailing out was the only option. He ran through the emergency procedures: oxygen off. Throat microphone off. Remove flying helmet and headset. Reaching for the canopy jettison lever he pulled but it broke off in his hand. Trying desperately not to panic he shot a glance at his altimeter – he was now at only 800 feet. He needed to get out of there quickly – very quickly. He now tried to open the canopy as normal and as he pulled the lever and pushed, it burst open with a sudden rush of wind and cold air that forced the Perspex hood off its hinges so that it clattered noisily down the side of the fuselage. Gasping from the cold, he released his belts and pushed himself up into the incredibly strong 130 mph draught, but as he did so was buffeted backwards, wedging his parachute under the rear part of the canopy and catching his legs under the instrument panel. Frantically, he tried to claw his hands back down on to the control column in an effort to flip the machine over, but he could not reach. And now Yellow 2 was beginning its final dive. There was nothing for it: he would have to risk tearing his parachute or die. Leaning over to the right, with one last effort he pulled his legs free and up towards his body and suddenly he was rolling through the air, somersaulting past the tail of his Messerschmitt.

Still tumbling he pulled the parachute release but for a moment nothing happened, and in panic he began groping helplessly at the pack, only for the silk to burst out. As the main parachute opened, the secondary ’chute managed to get tangled around his left leg causing him intense pain so that he was hanging upside down, his leg feeling as though it was being pulled from his hip. Somehow, he managed to right himself and was relieved to discover his leg was still intact, although the pain was excruciating. Ahead he now saw Yellow 2 dive into the ground in the middle of a field of cows, which were scattering in all directions. He heard a soft thump as it hit the ground and then the ammunition began exploding.

The ground was now rising up to meet him, but fortunately he landed on his right leg and the ground was soft, and he was able to release the parachute harness with ease. He was lying beside a canal embankment. A short distance away, although out of sight, ammunition was still exploding. Looking around, he could see no-one. He felt desperately alone and helpless, and his throat began to tighten. He thought he might cry.

But then the moment passed as he began to discard his rubber dinghy, flare pistol, and sea water dye container. Suddenly a shot rang out and he quickly lay flat, pressing his head into the damp ground. Carefully raising his head again he saw a man in civilian clothes approaching him, an armband around his left sleeve and clutching a shotgun.

‘Get up!’ he yelled.

‘My leg is hurt!’ Ulrich replied. He tried to get up, but collapsed in pain.

‘I’ll come round to you,’ called out the man.

Ulrich sat there on the wet grass, waiting for his captor. Depression swept over him. He was twenty-two and a prisoner of war. The battle was over.