When the Task Force set out on its 8000 mile journey south to retake the Falkland Islands in April 1982, it not only faced enormous logistical challenges but it was totally reliant on carrier and shipborne aviation, unlike the Argentinians who possessed an efficient land-based air force of over 200 aircraft. The Task Force also lacked Airborne Early Warning aircraft and its Sea Harriers were outnumbered by six to one.

Despite these awesome odds, the Fleet Air Arm played a pivotal role winning the crucial battle for air superiority and so contributing greatly to the successful outcome of the campaign.

In total, 171 naval aircraft from 15 Naval Air Squadrons were deployed. The 26 Sea Harriers from HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible inflicted serious losses on the Argentine Air Force destroying 23 aircraft in air to air engagements, for the loss of not a single Sea Harrier in air combat. The embarked fixed wing force also included for the first time, RAF Harrier GR3s in the ground attack role.

Royal Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare Sea King helicopters flew round the clock throughout the conflict, often in atrocious weather. 820 NAS embarked in HMS Invincible, flew 1560 hours in May alone. Over the whole of the operation the serviceability of all embarked aircraft was 90% – a huge testament to the reliability of the aircraft and the skill and dedication of the engineering and maintenance teams.

Navy Commando Sea King and Wessex helicopters, supported by Army Air Corps light helicopters and one RAF Chinook, were also essential for providing support and tactical mobility ashore. They operated deep in the threat environment playing a vital role in the land forces’ success, deploying troops, ammunition, food, fuel and conducting casualty evacuation across the most inhospitable terrain, often in appalling weather conditions and under enemy fire.

In a combined attack, a Wessex 3 from HMS Antrim and Wasps from HMS Endurance severely damaged the submarine Santa Fe with depth charges and AS 12 missiles. Operating from frigates and destroyers, the Lynx also demonstrated with marked success the capability of the Sea Skua missile in the anti-shipping role which was the first time these missiles had been used in action. 

Improvisation, adaptability, endurance and immense courage characterised the Fleet Air Arm contribution to the conflict.

Admiral Sir George Zambellas GCB DSC ADC, President of Navy Wings said “without our Sea Harriers fending off an enemy force of fighter and bomber aircraft that in total was nine times larger, destroying 23 Argentine aircraft and deterring others from bombing our ships and forces in San Carlos Water, there could have been no victory.”

“The Sea Harrier and the pilots who flew her were critical in giving the Task Force battle-winning edge. They put their lives on the line. Most flew more than 50 war missions, more than 300 miles from the carriers against the Argentine air threat. They were not just ‘The Few’ or the ‘Few of the Few’ – they were ‘The Very Few’ and as the Royal Navy embraces a new era of technology and innovation, it is timely to remember that this naval victory in the air was only possible with the full capability of Carrier Aviation including the engineers, maintainers and the ships companies who kept the Carrier Air Groups in the Falklands flying.”

To ensure that this courage and fearlessness in the face of the enemy is never forgotten, the charity, Navy Wings, restores, maintains and flies a collection of nationally important historic naval aircraft which display at air shows and events around the country, promoting the Nation’s Naval Aviation Heritage.