Monday, June 7, 2010

Guest Post from John - The West Part Two

As we drove west out of Port Howard, we came across a rather unusual scene. Some 13km from Port Howard and on the right hand side of the rather bumpy track that doubles as the road is a large white triangular object sticking vertically out of the ground. In fact, the object is the left hand wing of an Argentinean fighter bomber which crashed here during the 1982 conflict.

On closer inspection, there is a large debris field spreading out over a quarter of a mile or so and encompasses the majority of the aircraft's remaining major components such as the cockpit,




air intake,

machine gun,

and engine.

Although this wreckage remains fairly well preserved some 28 years after the event, many of the choice parts of the aircraft have long since gone - acquired by Squadrons and musuems alike for their respective crewrooms and exhibitions.
The story of the aircraft and its participation in the 1982 Falklands Conflict is also quite interesting. The aircraft in question was an Israeli Aircraft Industries Dagger with the serial number C-404 and was one of 39 purchased by the Fuerza Aerea Argentina (Argentinean Air force) between 1979 and 1980 second-hand from the Israeli Air Force.
Indeed the scattered aircraft remains strewn across the bleak West Falklands landscape still highlight the aircraft's original identity with components marked in Hebrew:
and show the Star of David markings which remain visible under the Argentinean paint scheme.

Originally based at Tandil, near Buenos Aires, the aircraft deployed south to San Julian in Southern Argentina with Grupo 6 de Caza in order to support the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands.

21 May 1982 was a turning point for the Falklands Conflict as the British launched Operation SUTTON - the much awaited amphibious assault of the Islands. The Argentineans realised that if the British could establish a robust beachhead on the Islands then their campaign to retain control of the Islands was over. As a result, the Argentineans launched multiple waves of aircraft in an attempt to halt the British advance. 21 May 1982 was also the day that C-404 would meet its demise. Flown by Major Gustavo Piuma Justo and using the callsign Raton (Mouse in Spanish) 2, C404 was one of 3 Daggers which were tasked to attack the British amphibious landings at San Carlos. In order to mask their approach from the prying eye of British radars, the Daggers flew low and fast over West Falkland. However, this move had been anticipated by British Military planners. As a result, the 3 Daggers were bounced by a pair of patrolling Sea Harriers a mere 3 minutes flying time from their intended targets. The Sea Harriers led by the Commanding Office of 801 Naval Air Squadron, Lieutenant Commander 'Sharkey' Ward, quickly dispatched all 3 Daggers with their modern and highly lethal Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Sharkey's wingman Lieutenant Steve Thomas, shot down the first 2 daggers in quick succession including Piuma in C-404, while Ward shot down the remaining Dagger.
Thomas describes the intial stages of the dogfight, " I barrelled in behind them, locked up a missile on the rear guy (Piuma) and fired. The Sidewinder hit the aircraft and took it apart." Thomas quickly converted onto the second aircraft and shot it down with similar ease. Despite being a young and relatively inexperienced fighter pilot, Thomas would finish the Conflict with 3 kills to his name. Sharkey continues the description of the battle, "Adrenalin running high, I glanced round to check the sky about me. Flashing underneath me and just to my right, was the beautiful green and brown camouflage of the 3rd Dagger. I broke right and down towards the aircraft's tail, acquired the jet exhaust with the sidewinder, and released the missile. It reached its target in very quick time and the Dagger disappeared in a ball of flame." This was Sharkey's 2nd kill of the day and he would later shoot down a Hercules transport aircraft bringing his overall tally to 3.
All 3 Argentinean pilots survived the incident making best use of their British built Martin Baker ejection seats. However, they all spent a long, cold, wintry night sleeping rough in the West Falkland countryside. Piuma, despite a damaged ankle and a bruised face, managed to walk to a shepherd's hut and rest before being rescued by an Argentinean helicopter the next day.
Despite the scene of a brief air battle on a crucial day of the conflict, the landscape reamins scarred decades later reminding us of the endeavours, commitment, bravery and sacrifices by both sides during the Conflict.

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