Richard Hutchings served as a helicopter pilot during the first part of the Falklands War, flying Sea King helicopters from HMS Hermes in support of the British Special Forces that carried out the early operations of the war. The author took part in three main phases of activity. First came a mix of transport duties to support the creation and early operations of the Task Force, and experiments with new night vision goggles that greatly expanded the capabilities of the Sea King. Next came a period acting in support of the Special Forces as they carried out the earlier missions on the Falklands, starting with inserting, supporting and removing a series of reconnaissance teams, and peaking with the attack on the Argentine base on Pebble Island.
The author's final war mission was a rather farcical Special Operations mission on the Argentinean mainland. The plan was to drop a small SAS party off near an Argentine air base where Exocet armed aircraft were believed to be based. The mission was a total failure, and the author and his crew ended up flying into semi-neutral Chile. This is where the farce begins. With the mission aborted, there was no need for secrecy, so while the author practised his escape and evasion techniques in the Chilean countryside, another British officer was wandering around the same area shouting out his name! When the crew were 'captured' by the Chilean military, they were immediately whisked back to Britain without any real fuss. A period of rather pointless secrecy in the UK was followed by the author being selected to act as a commentator for Radio 4's PM programme for the return of 846 Squadron to its UK base!
This account makes one realise just how narrow a margin the campaign was fought on. The loss of an individual helicopter was a potential disaster, while the loss of either of the two British carriers would have ended the campaign. It came as a surprise to me that some of the Sea Kings lacked radar, making some of their operations especially difficult. This was the first major British campaign since Suez, and on occasion that lack of experience showed - on one occasion the carriers moved away from the helicopters during a mission, leaving them without enough fuel to get back to base. Only a risking refuelling stop on one of the escorts allowed them to get back safely.
This is an interesting account of part of the Falklands War that I haven't read much about before, in particular the operations on the mainland of South America.
Part 1 - The Road to War
1 - Will We, Won't We?
2 - The Passage to Ascension Island
3 - Task Force Reorganization at Ascension Island
4 - The Eve of War
Part 2 - Operations in the TEZ
5 - Arrival in the TEZ - Operation Sutton Commences
6 - HMS Sheffield - A Shattering Blow
7 - HMS Yarmouth- 'These Things Happen in War'
8 - The Narwal Incident
9 - Operation Sutton Continues
10 - Pebble Island
Part 3 - The Mainland Option
11 - 'You're Never Going to Believe This'
12 - HMS Invincible
13 - A One-way Trip to Argentina
14 - Fog, Now What?
15 - 'Chile, it's F***** Freezing!'
16 - Arrival at Useless Bay
17 - The Beach South of Punta Arenas
18 - Survival in the Hostile Chilean Countryside
19 - The Hill
20 - 'Are you the Three British Airmen?'
21 - The Flight to Santiago, Courtesy of the RAF
22 - Santiago - 'It's a Small World'
23 - The Flight to London - What no Interpol?
24 - Arrival in the UK - 'We're Not Expecting You'
25 - The 'Safe House'
26 - The Aftermath
Author: Richard Hutchings
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation