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The Battle of San Carlos was a battle between aircraft and ships that lasted from 21 to 25 May 1982 during the British landings on the shores of San Carlos Water (which became known as "Bomb Alley"[2][3]) in the 1982 Falklands War(Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas). Low-flying land-based Argentine jet aircraft made repeated attacks on ships of the British Task Force.

It was the first time in history that a modern surface fleet armed with surface-to-air missilesand with air cover backed up by STOVL carrier-based aircraft defended against full-scale air strikes. The British sustained severe losses and damage but were able to create and consolidate a beachhead and land troops.


After the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands the United Kingdom initiated Operation Corporate, sending a Task Force 12000 km southin order to retake the islands. Under the codename Operation Sutton the British forces planned amphibious landings around San Carlos, on an inlet located off Falkland Sound, the strait between East Falkland and West Falkland. The location was chosen as the landing force would be protected by the terrain against Exocet and submarine attacks, and it was distant enough from Stanley to prevent a rapid reaction from Argentine ground troops stationed there.[4]

The landing took the Argentines completely by surprise; Argentine Navy officers had considered that the location was not a good choice for such an operation, and had left the zone without major defences.[5]

Argentine aircraft

Main article: Argentine air forces in the Falklands War

Argentine forces operated under range and payload limitations as they had limited refuelling resources and were operating at maximum range.

  • A-4 Skyhawk: The A-4 was used by both the Argentine Air Force (FAA) and Argentine Naval Aviation (COAN). In spite of using two 295-gallons drop tanks, they needed aerial refuelling twice during missions. Bomb load used during the conflict was one British-made 1000 lb (Mk 17) unguided bomb or four 227 kg Spanish/American built retarding tail bombs. The aircraft were armed with two 20 mm Colt Mk 12 cannon.
  • IAI Dagger: The Israeli-built Mirage 5 did not have aerial refuelling capacity, and even using two 550-gallon drop tanks to carry extra fuel, they were flying at the absolute limit of their range. Their main weapon during the conflict was the British-made 1000 lb (Mk 17) unguided bomb. They retained their 30 mm DEFA cannon.
  • Mirage IIIEA: The French-built interceptor has an internal fuel tank smaller than that of the Dagger, so they could not fly low enough to escort the strike aircraft. They carried a pair of R550 Magic IR missiles in their high-altitude flights to the islands, but the British Harrier combat air patrolsconcentrated on the low-flying bombers.
  • FMA IA-58 Pucara: The Argentine-built counter-insurgency aircraft operated from the Goose Greengrass airstrip during the battle. The aircraft were armed with rocket pods, two 20 mm cannons, and four 7.62 mm machine guns.

British amphibious force

Main article: Operation Sutton

British air cover was provided for the first time by "Harrier carriers". These carriers deployed short-takeoff, vertical-landing Harriers.

800 NAS Sea Harrier FRS1 from HMS Hermes

  • Air Cover:
    • Aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12)
      • 800 Squadron (BAE Sea Harrier)
      • 809 Squadron (BAE Sea Harrier)
    • Aircraft carrier HMS Invincible (R05)
      • 801 Squadron (BAE Sea Harrier)
      • 809 Squadron (BAE Sea Harrier)
  • Landing force: HMS Fearless, HMS Intrepid, RFA Sir Geraint, RFA Sir Tristram, RFA Sir Galahad, RFA Sir Percivale, RFA Sir Lancelot, SS Canberra, RFA Fort AustinEuropic Ferry 4 and Elk 5.
  • Escort force: HMS Antrim, HMS Coventry, HMS Broadsword, HMS Brilliant, HMS Ardent, HMS AntelopeHMS Argonaut, HMS Plymouth and HMS Yarmouth

This is a list of the main sorties carried out by Argentine air units showing approximate local time, Aircraft and Call signal.

21 May

Lt Owen Crippa and his Aermacchi MB-339

HMS Fearless at San Carlos

Gate guardian at the flying club Mar del Plata painted in the colours of 3-A-314, the last A-4Q to attack HMS Ardent

The Argentine Army force on site was a section from the 25th Infantry Regiment named Combat team Güemes (Spanish: Equipo de Combate Güemes) located at Fanning Head. The British fleet entered San Carlos during the night and at 02:50 was spotted by EC Güemes which opened fire with 81mm mortarsand two recoilless 105mm rifles. They were soon engaged by British naval gunfire and a 25-man SBS team and forced to retreat, losing their communications equipment but shooting down two Gazellehelicopters with small-arms fire, killing three members of the two aircrews.

1st Lt Carlos Daniel Esteban from EC Güemes informed Goose Green garrison about the landings at 08:22 (he was finally evacuated by helicopter on 26 May). The Argentine high command at Stanley initially thought that a landing operation was not feasible at San Carlos and the operation was a diversion. At 10:00, a COAN Aermacchi MB-339 jet based on the islands was dispatched to San Carlos on a reconnaissance flight. In the meantime, the FAA had already started launching their mainland-based aircraft at 09:00.

Between 10:15 and 17:12 seventeen sorties were carried out by FAA and COAN. Dagger and A-4C of the FAA made attacks on HMS Antrim, HMS Argonaut, HMS Broadsword, HMS Brilliant, HMS Ardent, HMS Brilliant. Sorties of MIIIEA aircraft were used as diversions as-well. While many of the bombs did not explode, HMS Ardent and HMS Argonaut were hit, sustaining damage and casualties. Sea Harriers intercepted some of the attackers, destroying 8 FAA aircraft.

22 May

Bad weather over the Patagonia airfields prevented the Argentines from carrying out most of their air missions; only a few Skyhawks managed to reach the islands. The British completed their surface-to-air Rapier battery launcher deployments.

23 May

On 23 May Argentine aircraft resumed attacking, striking HMS Antelope, HMS Broadsword, HMS Yarmouth, and HMS Antelope. Only HMS Antelope was damaged, sinking after an unexploded bomb detonated while being defused. Of the attacking aircraft, two were shot down. An additional COAN pilot was killed after ejecting from his A-4Q after a tyre burst upon landing.

24 May

IAI Dagger

On 24 May the Argentine pilots on the continent openly expressed their concern about the lack of collaboration between the three branches of the armed forces, and protested with passive resistance. General Galtieri, acting president of Argentina, decided to visit Comodoro Rivadaviathe next day, 25 May (Argentina's National Day), to try to convince them to keep fighting, but when he arrived in the morning the pilots had changed their minds and were already flying to the islands.[7]

Six sorties were launched by the FAA against the British forces. RFA Sir Lancelot and probably Sir Galahad and Sir Bedivere and ground targets were attacked. Four attack aircraft were shot down, with one pilot killed.

25 May

Attacks by the FAA on 25 May proved more successful than the previous day. HMS Coventry was sunk after being hit with 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. Attacks on HMS Broadsword damaged the frigate's communication systems and hydraulics and shattered the nose of her Sea Lynx helicopter. RFA Sir Lancelot was also attacked. One sortie accidentally attacked Goose Green, mistaking it for Ajax bay, and were hit by small arms friendly fire. Three attackers were shot down, one by a Rapier Missile from 'T' Battery of 12 Regiment Royal Artillery and two by Sea Dart fired by HMS Coventry.


In spite of the British air defence network, the Argentine pilots were able to attack their targets but some serious procedural failures prevented them from getting better results – most notably problems with their bombs' fuses. Thirteen bombs[20]hit British ships without detonating. Lord Craig, the retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: "Six better fuses and we would have lost".[21]

The British warships, although themselves suffering most of the attacks, were successful in keeping the strike aircraft away from the landing ships, which were well inside the bay. With the British troops on Falklands soil, a land campaign followed until Argentine General Mario Menéndez surrendered to British Major General Jeremy Moore on 14 June in Stanley.

The subsonic Harrier jump-jet, armed with the most advanced variant of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, proved capable as an air superiority fighter.

The actions had a profound impact on later naval practice. During the 1980s most warships from navies around the world were retrofitted with close-in weapon systems and guns for self-defence. First reports of the number of Argentine aircraft shot down by British missile systems were subsequently revised down.

Landing Forces

The British land forces included:[1]


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