Wings of the Malvinas  [9781902109220]

Wings of the Malvinas
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Date Added: Friday 19. October, 2012
Wings of the Malvinas is a weighty tome in every sense. It is essentially a work of reference, rather than a bedtime read or a book offering much by way of information or analysis above Squadron or Wing level. Santiago Rivas describes in great detail the ORBAT and day-by-day operational employment in the Falklands campaign of elements of the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aerea Argentina confusingly shortened to FAA), the Naval Air Arm (Comando de Aviaci6n Naval Argentina - COAN), and Army Aviation (Comando de Aviaci6n de Ejercito - CAE), drawing on war diaries and personal recollections. In passing, he touches on support flights by two airlines, the state owned flag-carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas, and Austral. He also describes a range of operational support tasks flown by the shadowy Escuadron Fenix, which included diversionary radar saturating sorties, radio relay, maritime reconnaissance and SAR, using aircraft such as the Learjet and HS 125. Intriguingly, Rivas names two British ex-RAF pilots among the 110 civil pilots 'on the books'.

The format of Wings of the Malvinas is that of a unit by unit, sortie by sortie narrative of operations giving a very clear picture of the courage and determination of the crews involved. It recognises a capacity for improvisation and technical innovation that in many ways mirrored activity in UK at the time. As fits were urgently cobbled together on RAF stations to install Omega navigation equipment, Radar Warning Receivers, Shrike anti-radiation missiles, Sidewinder AAMs or even air-to-air refuelling equipment, so in Argentina, similar work was being undertaken, with some significant successes. Improvised chaff and flare dispensers for the Canberra (which had already been modified to carry a mapping radar), Multiple Ejector Racks (MER), capable of carrying six 500 lb bombs and a sighting system from the Pucara for the C-130 and Omega for a number of types were all trialled and put into service. Most significant of all, Exocet was incorporated in the Super Etendard fit, with no help from the manufacturers and crews trained, with dire consequences for HMS Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor. Had more of this aircraft/weapon combination been available to the COAN, the fate of the British carriers might have been decided less ambiguously than is suggested in this book's account of attacks on HMS Invincible.

These examples of improvisation and flexibility are impressive, but the book is silent about higher level decision making and very largely about logistic and other support for operations. However, those critical of the support tail associated with contemporary RAF off-base operations need only consider Rivas's chapter dealing with Pucara operations in the Malvinas, to see the reality of attempting to operate without sufficient support - engineering, supply, Sapper or Force Protection. Pebble Island offers many lessons. Again, reading between the lines, the outbreak of war is not the time to be learning new tactics or roles, beguiling though such adaptability might seem.

Running to 383 A4 pages, with maps, diagrams and more than 500 colour and b/w plates, Wings of the Malvinas is a well written and a valuable reference source, besides giving a flavour of the operational environment into which Argentina crews were launched and from which they did not flinch. It is comprehensive and clearly exhaustively researched and will lie well alongside many books by British authors who cannot have had the benefit of such detail from The Other Side of the Hill. AVM Sandy Hunter

Royal Air Force Historical Society – Journal 53
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]
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