Buckingham Covers - First Day Covers

Squadron Leader C N McDougall

 

During the Falklands War, Operations Black Buck 1 to Black Buck 7 was a series of seven extremely long-range bombing attacks by Royal Air Force Vulcan bombers planned against Argentine positions in the Falkland Islands. Of these seven, only five missions were flown.

Background

Three 22-year old Avro Vulcans B2s were deployed to Wideawake airfield on Ascension Island, which were drawn from No. 44, 50 and No. 101 Squadron RAF. The Vulcans were captained by Squadron Leader Neil McDougall, Squadron Leader John Reeve and Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers. Eleven Victor tankers, including two standby aircraft were required to refuel the Vulcans before and after their attacks on the Falklands. The attacking Vulcan was refuelled five times on the outward journey and once on the return journey. Each aircraft carried twenty-one 1,000 pound (450kg) bombs or two Shrike anti-radar missiles (Dash 10 pod). The bombs were intended to cause damage to Argentine installations, especially the Port Stanley Airport; it was hoped that the attacks would cause the defenders to switch on defensive radars, which would then be targeted by the missiles. In spite of being the longest combat flights in history at the time, the military success of Black Buck can be at best described as minimal, the actual damage to the airfield and radars was quickly repaired. The runway was continually used by Argentine C-130s until the end of the war. The Argentines would leave the runway covered with piles of dirt during the day causing British intelligence to surmise that repairs were still in progress. Craters were in fact heaps of earth placed there by the Argentines to make it look as though the runway was damaged. This deception misled the British as to the condition of the airfield and the success of their raids. Also, British sources claimed that Black Buck was responsible of the Mirage IIIEA withdrawn from operations over the islands. However, according to the official FAA report they made 58 sorties during May/June providing decoys for the strike units with particular success on the 8 June attacks against the British landings ships. The real fact was that their lesser internal fuel capacity, compared to the IAI Daggers, as well their lack of air refuelling capability, prevented them from being used in the escort or combat-air role.

To the British, the raids achieved a number of non-material objectives, including demonstrating the British willingness and ability to attack Argentine forces on the islands. It also demonstrated the ability of the RAF to strike at the Argentinian homeland if necessary.

At the time, it was the longest bombing raid in history, covering over 4,000 nautical miles, all of which were conducted over the open sea. This record was not broken until an American B-52 flew from the USA to Iraq, and then returned to RAF Mildenhall in England during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, although a major difference between the two was that the B-52s benefited from forward pre-positioned tankers for their aerial refueling.

Missions

Black Buck Five: 31st May:

This mission, flown by Squadron Leader Neil McDougall and his crew from 50 Squadron, was the first successful anti-radar mission equipped with AGM-45A Shrike missiles. The main target was a Westinghouse AN/TPS-43 long range 3D radar that the Argentine Air Force deployed during April to guard the Falkland's surrounding airspace. The Argentine operators were aware of the US-supplied antiradar missiles and simply turned it off during the Vulcan's approach. This radar would remain intact during the whole conflict. However, air defences remained operational and the Shrike hit one of the secondary fire control radars.

Black Buck Six: 3rd June:

This mission, again flown by Squadron Leader Neil McDougall in XM597, attacked and caused damage to a Skyguard fire-control radar. However, on its return flight, the aircraft was forced to divert to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil after its inflight-refuelling probe broke. The two missiles she was carrying were launched to reduce drag, but one stuck. Important documentation was jettisoned into the sea via the crew hatch, and a "Mayday" signal sent. The Brazilian authorities cleared her to land, which she did with less than 2000 lbs of fuel remaining, i.e., dangerously low. This was insufficient to have completed a circuit of the airport. The aircraft was interned for nine days, before the crew and aircraft were returned on June 11th, after both had been treated well by the authorities. However, the remaining Shrike missile was confiscated and never returned.