Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Darts at Sea

I decided to do a tricky one this week, the Falklands War. Why is it so tricky? Well on one hand you have a lot of misinformation kicking around the net as some individuals seem to have a vested interest in lying about the war.
Argentinian paper claims, I love how HMS Invincible is doing 28 knots forward while the smoke is blowing to starboard,  no one is tackling the blaze and Harrier operations are continuing as normal... For a more detailed view on the claims see this video.


Equally a book a I picked up to help with it by Max Hastings was written only a couple of years after the event, so some of the information may well have been proven wrong, but on the flip side he had a full range of veterans to interview.
The war had quite a lot going on in it, so I'll be focusing on a few of the more interesting events based around the air to sea aspects.

The classic Newsweek cover... I had to get it in somehow.
We'll start early on as the task force is steaming towards the war zone. Britain had issued a maritime exclusion zone around the Falklands. As the task force approached they started getting shadowed by Argentinian Boeing 707's. The worry was that these spy planes could vector Argentinian submarines onto the task force. Due to the sensitivity of the issue the RN asked permission of the government to shoot these hostile aircraft down. After deliberation the government agreed.
At the time the Royal Navy was armed with the Sea Dart missile, designed to shoot down high altitude Russian bombers attacking the fleet, so you'd think that a 707 would be an easy target. However the 707’s were flying right at the edge of the envelope of engagement of Sea Dart. When the missiles were launched, by the time they reached the 707 the target would be outside of range. If however the 707 had altered its course slightly the missile could have struck. So two Sea Darts were fired from HMS Cardiff. Luckily for the Argentinian crew they kept their course and the missiles missed.

Later on the Sea Darts were used for interdiction. The Argentinians regularly flew transport flights in at night to Port Stanley's airfield. The Royal Navy in an attempt to enforce a blockade sent both a Type 42 and a Type 22 frigate forward to get off shore of Stanley, the Type 22's armed with Sea Wolf provided close in air defence while the Sea Darts with their 40 miles range provided the stand-off. HMS Coventry was selected as the Type 42 in this 42-22 combo. Early in the morning of the 9th of May she detected a trio of planes, one C-130 Hercules and two A-4 Skyhawks. At a range of 38 miles she locked on and fired two missiles.
The missiles missed the Hercules, and one exploded near the Skyhawks. The crew of HMS Coventry thought they'd had no effect, but suddenly both Skyhawks disappeared from radar. Max Hastings thinks that both pilots ejected. However the Argentinians claim that both crashed in bad weather... at the same time, coincidently seconds after someone had shot at them and missed. HMS Coventry rounded off the night by shooting down a Puma a little while later with another Sea Dart, which became the Royal Navy's first missile kill.

The weeks that followed are a complicated mixture of events, mistakes, casualties and unhappiness for both sides. But they have been studied in depth by lots of other authors. The net result was another nineteen Sea Darts were fired for two further kills.
Now we come to May the 30th, and here the misinformation ascends to the highest levels, and it all revolves around HMS Invincible and the Argentinians decision to sink her.

On that day the Argentinian Navy and badly wounded Air Force decided to launch one last attack against the British fleet. The Air Force had suffered heavy losses during the intervening weeks in men and planes, but they had made it through to hit their targets. Four Skyhawks, code named Zonda, would join a pair of Super Étendards from the Navy, one of which was carrying an Exocet missile.
After refuelling from a C-130 the flight approached the task force, and began their attack, with the Étendard launching the Exocet, and the four Skyhawks were to follow the missile in.
On board the fleet at 1730 a Yellow Air Attack Warning was issued after an ECM operator had picked up radio chatter from the incoming strike. Then a Lynx helicopter on picket duty and one of the ships picked up contacts on their radars. The radar warning receivers began to squawk as the radar waves from the Étendards bathed the ships of the fleet. Then the tone stepped up a notch as both Étendards began to sweep the fleet. Codeword warnings were flashed throughout the ships and all the ships with the capability started launching chaff
One officer in the ops room of HMS Glamorgan said that as this happened his heart rate began to rise, until they spotted the incoming missile, and as it neared the fleet his heart felt like it was going to burst through his chest as it was hammering away. For people away from the ops room the fear lasted only a few seconds, One crewman said they got the Red Air Warning, and about 45 seconds later it was all over. In that time he had lain down and heard the cry of "BRACE! BRACE! BRACE!”.

However during that 45 seconds HMS Exeter had fired two Sea Darts, with more modern missiles and radar she was able to lock on and fire about fifteen seconds earlier than other Type 42's with the fleet.
Initially a confused warning had been issued, giving the wrong bearing for the attack, and one of the ships (HMS Avenger) had launched chaff and turned to present the smallest possible cross section to the incoming attack. However she now found herself heading directly towards the incoming strike.

The Sea Darts from HMS Exeter shot down one of the Sky Hawks as they barrelled in, that just left the three Skyhawks and the Exocet, and HMS Avenger was directly in their path. HMS Avenger had had a modification over the normal type 21 Frigate. Her divers had recovered a 20mm cannon from HMS Antelope, which had been sunk earlier in the campaign, and it had been mounted on the ship. The gun carried the nickname "Antelopes Avenger". They also had Captain Hugo White, who was a gunnery expert. Some sources claim he personally calculated the range and bearing to fire their 4.5" gun, and managed to hit the incoming Exocet.
However other sources counter this saying the full weight of HMS Avenger's gunnery was directed at the Skyhawks, and either the second Sea Dart that narrowly missed HMS Avenger or Avenger's 4.5" actually hit a second Skyhawks, while the Exocet was decoyed by chaff or was simply unserviceable. The last two Skyhawks of Zonda flight quickly launched an attack on HMS Avenger, which missed and and then they retreated.

There was one other attack on the fleet that day. A bomb rolled out the back of a C-130, hit but did no damage to a tanker called British Wye.
The war wasn't quite over and there were a few more Sea Dart firings which shot down a couple of further aircraft, including a British helicopter. However the final story for Sea Dart I want to talk about is from 1991 and Operation Desert Storm. A British Type 42, HMS Gloucester was working with the USS Jarrett. Both were escorting the USS Missouri, when the Iraqi forces launched a Silkworm missile at the battleship.
USS Missouri fired chaff, the USS Jarrett immediately locked onto the cloud of metallic strips in its close defence stance and opened fire at the chaff... The rounds passed through the cloud of chaff and hit the USS Missouri causing no damage or casualties. Meanwhile HMS Gloucester locked on with her Sea Darts and shot the incoming missile down, becoming the first naval missile to missile kill in history.

But by the early 2000's Sea Dart was nearing the end of its life. Due to certain money saving choices made by the, then Labour, government Sea Dart maintenance was halted, leaving the Royal Navy with just four ships that could fire SAM's, and those were all Sea Wolf. Luckily no major airborne threat developed during the period, and many years later the Type 45's arrived.
This final video is of a Sea Dart engagement sequence, with a bit of a twist.


Image Credits:
www.shipspotting.com and navynews.co.uk

3 comments:

  1. An excellent read. A lot of information I had no knowledge of. Especially the bomb and the Herc.

    Keep 'em coming.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, when I found out about the Herc bombing I knew I had to work it into a story too.

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