After The Falklands Campaign - A Short Personal Account

~ by Sqn Ldr Laurie Ramage (Retd), Ex OC 1312 Flt

Many books and TV documentaries have been produced about the Falkland Island Campaign of 1982. 1982! It seems such a long time ago. Because the conflict theatre was only really accessible by sea, 30 Sqn was not involved in the actual fighting. However, we certainly were involved with the defence and maintenance of peace after the cessation of hostilities. So, what has been written about that then? Actually, not a lot, but it may surprise you to know that personnel from 30 Sqn, and 24 Sqn, had a presence on the Island for the following 20-plus years.

Curties Crew - 19841984 - Flt Lt Dave Curties (Capt), Flt Lt Barry Trump (Nav), Flt Lt Laurie Ramage (Co), Sgt Bob Ewing (ALM), MEng Ken Quick (Eng)
Once all the fighting was over the main role of the Armed Forces was keeping the Falkland Islands British. To do that 23 Sqn was formed with F4 Phantoms and 1453 Flight with Harriers, all based at Stanley Airfield. However, because this was the only real strip capable of taking the F4 a system was needed: firstly, and primarily, to keep a pair of F4's on patrol for an extended period of time; and secondly, if the first F4 had an accident on landing back at Stanley the second aircraft had to have sufficient fuel to loiter long enough to clear the first off the runway. Enter the Hercules and 1312 Flight!

As part of the on going effort to supply the Falklands, the Hercules was very quickly, and successfully, converted to a tanker. Not only was this role essential for in-theatre operations, but also to resupply the Falklands with personnel and vital supplies for many years after the campaign.

1312 Flight's Role

F4 of 23 Sqn - 1984 The main role of 1312 Flt was to keep the F4's of 23 Sqn in the air for as long as their task required.
Equipped with 2 Hercules tankers and one Herc 'flatbed', the primary role for the 2 tankers was to provide air-to-air refueling for the F4s and Harriers thereby extending their time on task and thus their combat capability. Our secondary role was to provide surveillance of the 150-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands. In other words, we were policing the fishing vessels within the zone looking for ships that had strange aerial arrays and anything else for that matter that didn't look right.

This was a daily task and could take several hours with each vessel having to be photographed for the 'Intelligence' boys. This was done at low-level (250ft or lower sometimes), 270kts (max low-level speed for a C130K) but with 60 - 70 ships to be checked, this was a tiring and tedious job.

Our last two roles were Search and Rescue and Casualty Evacuation. The seas around the Falklands could be treacherous and unpredictable. When a storm blew in some of the lucky fishing vessels might be able to reach the safety of harbour, but for many weathering the onslaught of heavy seas and very strong winds was their only option. Our Hercs carried a full sea survival kit on board, mainly for people either in lifeboats or in the water. To lift the injured or sick off a ship the services of the brave lads in their helicopters were required. In this case, the Herc was used for 'top cover' and was needed to established communications with the vessel before the arrival of the helicopter.

Vince Crew - 1982/3 L-R. FO Bob Ilett (Co), Flt Lt Stu Avent (Nav), Sqn Ldr Stu Vince (Capt), Eng, MALM Roy Caddick (ALM).
Once the unfortunate person was lifted off the ship they would be flown to the hospital in Stanley. Sometimes the injured could not be dealt with adequately in Stanley and would have to be flown to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or Santiago, Chile. Naturally, this task fell to the flatbed Herc. Although you'd have a poor unfortunate passenger onboard, these were popular trips not just for the flight crew, but also for the ground crew. It was very important to get the aircraft back to the Falklands so a full engineering contingent was mustered - and we were never short of volunteers I can assure you! Apart from the engineering requirement it was a good morale booster and a chance for some to get off the Island for a couple of days.

South Georgia

As many of you will know, South Georgia is where the action started in the South Atlantic. It was about 4 hours flying time south east of the Falklands in a Herc and it's main settlement was called Grytviken. It was our job to drop valuable supplied and mail to the small garrison there. Fine, except for the fact that Grytviken lay within a very small bay surrounded by very steep mountains.

Grytvikken, South Georgia Grytviken, South Georgia.
The idea was for us to drop over water as close as we dared to the settlement, turn around inside the bay and escape the way we came in. The problem was that the mountains were covered in snow and ice and as a result the katabatic winds could be very strong with sometimes severe turbulence. However, on only one occasion did we turn back and return to Stanley after two attempts in very poor conditions.

Having completed the drop, we would carry out a recce around the island to see if anyone was hiding out in the old disused whaling stations - thankfully, we never found anyone.

Accommodation

Virtually everyone on the Sqn at that time, did a 4-month spell away from there loved ones in the South Atlantic.. Immediately after the conflict Sqn personnel were accommodated in 12'x12' Army pattern tents. If you were unlucky enough to serve your time during a Falklands winter - watch out!

The RAF Coastel This was the RAF's Coastel accommodation. After the move to Mount Pleasant they had to be upgraded before being sold for prison use!.
After a while three 'Coastels' arrived by sea. These were basically floating pontoons upon which were steel cargo containers welded together and made into accommodation for the boys. One was made into a gym and housed some army types, the second housed just army types, and the third was for RAF types. Each individual container could accommodate 4 people and had a shower and toilet facilities. The main problem was that to get to the mess rooms - and anywhere else for that matter - you had to go outside and brave the howling gales whipping around corners and disappearing up 'yer chuff!

After a few years of the Coastels they were sold to be made into a civilian prison. Before that could be done... they had to be upgraded! The eventual move to the purpose build RAF Mount Pleasant saw the accommodation become a little more 'standard'. The whole accommodation area, affectionately known as the Death Star, was a large single level expanse of Swedish style rooms and corridors.

1312 Flight's buildings were by the air traffic tower, as far away as possible from the main admin side of the Station on the far side of the Airfield. Not surprisingly, this suited most of us especially as there was an aircrew 'feeder' close by that we shared with the air traffic guys and gals. This was a happy time with a total of 40 personnel (3 x Herc crews, and approximately 25 ground crew) providing the manning. In late 1995, things were about to change.

"VC10s are coming!"

I know, I know, as daft as it seems 2 x VC10s were due to take the place of the Herc tankers. In a nutshell, the Hercs were getting a little worn due to high fatigue and continual punishment from the weather. Our lords and masters decided that they needed to reduce the number of expensive VC10s in the UK and either mothball them or shift them to another budget - am I sounding a bit cynical? So the fatigued Hercs were about to be replaced by an even more fatigued aircraft - brilliant! These aircraft were restricted to just 1.5g, which is next to nothing really and you'd have to be very careful in a turn. As a true testament to RAF engineering the VC10s are still there, although I doubt very much they are doing the sort of tasks we did - perhaps the tasks we did are no longer required in these days of chumliness e.t.c, anyway, on to more important things...

Downtown Stanley

Christ Church, Port Stanley Christ Church, Port Stanley, one of the major attractions in the Capitol.
The lucky thing about living and working at Stanley airfield was it's close proximity to the Capitol of the Falklands - Stanley. Stanley was not what you'd call a sprawling metropolis - rather a small town with very much it's own character and charm.

It was a short drive to the centre from the Coastels, but a 26-mile trek from RAF Mount Pleasant along a rough makeshift track - not for the weak hearted!

There were lots of (OK, some) places to look at including Government House, where the early action took place, the Christ Church Cathedral with it's whale bone archway at the entrance, to name just two. Decent shops were not exactly abundant - The Pink Shop was about the only place to find souvenirs however, the East India Company did run a small grocery store which doubled up as a trading station.

Drinking in local pubs basically came down to The Victory Bar which I have to say, at that time, was rather intimidating especially to non-locals. Thankfully, the general attitude to the British Forces was quite good. If you wanted a slap-up meal and decent surroundings, the best you could get was at The Upland Goose - run by Des.

Rest and Relaxation!

Rest and Relaxation Dave Curties (Lester Spigot) on a horse called... well... horse!
During my time on the island there was no such thing as a day off during the whole 4-month tour. Rather, you had an afternoon off followed by the next morning and that was your lot. For us, we had just three! So what does a crew do with this over generous time? For us and many of the other crews, we disappeared into the Camp. Locally the Camp was anywhere other than Stanley. During our flying about we often called up certain settlements and if you were lucky you might be invited over to stay the night and experience the extremely generous hospitality of life on the farms. We were very lucky to be invited to the Pickthorne Farm, owned by Simon and Suzie Bonner. This was on West Falkland and was part of Port Howard settlement.