Aviation History

Target Port Stanley: the Compelling Story of Black Buck 1 Mission, the first RAF Vulcan Raid during the Falklands War

The idea was simple: to destroy the runway at Port Stanley, and prevent Argentinian fast jets using it against the Royal Navy task force.

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The RAF’s opening shots of the Falklands War were among the most remarkable airstrikes in history. The idea was simple: to destroy the runway at Port Stanley, and prevent Argentinian fast jets using it against the Royal Navy task force.

As told by Andrew D. Bird in his book Operation Black Buck 1982 The Vulcans’ extraordinary Falklands War raids, on the night of Apr. 30/May 1, 1982, Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers stepped into the lead on the outbound flight for Black Buck 1, and made the first combat flight in an Avro Vulcan B.2 bomber. Squadron Leader Bob Tuxford flying Victor (White 2) was tasked to refuel the Vulcan (Blue 2) and, after changing roles, continued south. Both Withers and Tuxford flew to the last fuel bracket. Tuxford refuelled the Vulcan which drained his own fuel reserves. Now alone, Withers flew on to the Falklands, making his approach at low level, dropping to 300ft before climbing to 1,000ft for the bomb run 40 miles from his main target – Port Stanley airport.

The approach was monitored by GADA 601 3a Batería Skyguard radar operators on Sapper Hill. Coordinates were keyed into the computer system and four Oerlikon 35mm cannons tracked the threat. Their fire mission against the aircraft was denied by their command centre.

To verify their position, Vulcan XM607 H2S Mk 9 radar eventually locked onto the peak of Mount Usborne, 33 miles west of Stanley, before the automated bombing control system was engaged. Withers made the final approach at 10,000ft, with an airspeed of 330 knots (610 km/h). GADA 601 3a Batería Skyguard radar operators still had XM607 on their screen. Notifying command centre for a second time, a fire mission was refused as it could be a friendly Hercules C-130 or P-2 Neptune. As Argentinian commanders dithered, the Vulcan’s DASH-10 pod was switched on. At 4 miles to the target aircrafts, ECM was blanking out all Argentinian air defence.

At 2 miles, at an angle of 35˚, the automated bomb release dropped 21 bombs at short intervals. Withers put the Vulcan into a 60-degree bank to the left, subjecting the crew to 2 g (20 m/s2), twice the force of gravity, as they made their escape. Travelling at 440mph, Vulcan XM607 was 3 miles away when the first bomb exploded. As concrete was ripped up on the runway, the remaining 20 bombs impacted near troops under canvas. Their wooden barricades proved useless against the shock waves and there were deaths. Outside Stanley harbour, waiting to enter, Río Carcarañá, carrying GADA 101’s Batería B equipment and transport, was hit by the shock waves and swung like a pendulum until its crew managed to stabilize it. A rapid move was made to San Carlos for off-loading.

Withers headed nearly due north to a planned rendezvous with a Victor off the Brazilian coast, adjacent to Rio de Janeiro. Rules of Engagement meant a live fire ban in a radius around the British Task Force as the RAF Vulcan XM607 was routed nearby. Its crew signalled the code word ‘superfuse’ indicating a successful attack at 0746Z which was picked up by HMS Hermes.

The illustration in this post shows Vulcan B.2, mid air in cloud cover, flying away from the target, with an explosion in the background.

Operation Black Buck 1982 The Vulcans’ extraordinary Falklands War raids is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Adam Tooby via Osprey

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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