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Could anyone help me out with a few questions on Black Buck and the choice of aircraft?
I'd like to get a better understanding of why the Buccaneer wasn't used for the raids. I’ve read elsewhere that while the Buccaneer was better suited to the task it didn't have a large enough engine oil reservoir for the range of flight required.
Is this entirely the truth? The RAF certainly invested a huge amount time, energy and money getting the Vulcan’s up to spec, i.e. plumbing for the refuels, bomb aiming equipment etc. Then expended a huge effort to tank each single aircraft South. Would it not have been simpler to fit a larger oil tank on the Buc??
If this could have been managed, wouldn’t the Buccaneer have had a number of advantages, not least that they burned far less fuel and that they could also l@ser designate bombs – I understand the RAF purchased designators in 1979? Surely getting 2-4 bombs on target is better than hoping for the best from 22?
Was the Vulcan used because it was a useful way to demonstrate its utility… i.e. the RAF wanted to retain the large/medium bomber capability?
Put bluntly, the Vulcan could miss more refuel brackets than the Bucc and get home...
I hope this helps...
PS They could have put pavespike on the pylons of the Vulcan, but I guess they didn't fancy hanging about lasing the target. Drop 21 bombs and knob off in quick order was the tactic used (shame only 1 in 21 hit the runway though!).
Vulcan was trialled with a PWII fit - there is a photo somewhere of one with three PW mounted at the forward end of the bomb-bay, and IIRC, the potential load was for seven such weapons.
Also, if you look at the evidence which has since emerged via a commemorative seminar held at the purple learning centre, Admirals Lewin, Fieldhouse, Leach and Woodward were very keen on the thought of a Vulcan bombing the airfield, even though CAS had informed the war cabinet that to shut the runway he'd want to send at least 25 sorties and preferably more.
The reason for eagerness on the part of the senior dark blue was because of the signal that might be sent to the junta by carrying out a long range raid.
No argument with the raids - they were needed - and the few SHARs available needed to be protected. No argument withe effort put in. I just question the choice of aircraft. I mean, they even had to borrow the jamming pods from the Buc???
I'm suggesting that the decison might have been made for other reasons. The RAF might have seen the RN demonstrating the utility of their carriers and amphibs (which were up for the chop) and might have thought here's an opportunity to hang on to the big bombers???
Location: Quite near 'An aerodrome somewhere in England'
Ah yes, the joys of checking Spey oils during aircrew turn rounds on the F4 with a mirror on a stick and a torch. One side needed the starter door dropping, which usually meant gunk all over your immersion suit if you weren't quick....
Diverted to Valley once and went through this farce; one of our navs happened to be there on APC and asked "Why bother doing that, none of the sqn wheels are around!"....
Re Black Buccs; I understand that a study was undertaken but that there was no way the RAF had enough tankers to support the Bucc, it would run low on oil and failed AAR might well mean a swim in the bracing South Atlantic.
The hush-hush new Tornado GR1 was also looked at - the person entrusted to look at the ODM was seen crying with laughter over its rather pathetic payload/range figures, compared to the Bucc....
The Vulcan did indeed trial Paveway 2 and achieved a very respectable score releasing two from medium level at West Freugh. Designation was the problem although later in the war the RAF Harriers were able to use LGBs designated by FACs and achieved excellent results.
Whilst most of the above is true there was more to the Black Buck raid than mere 'let's use the Vulcan for something really useful before it goes out of service'. Certainly, if the effect could have been achieved by any other aircraft I don't think we would have spent money upgrading the Vulcan for AAR, conventional weaponry (it had all been ripped out when the Vulcan went solely Strike), Smart weapons etc etc and all in just a few days too!
Black Buck was a well-considered strategic operation (Air Ops for Strategic Effect - Air Power doctrine, remember?) rather than a tactical mission. The purpose of it was purely to tell the enemy that we had their capital city covered. The fact that only one bomb hit the runway is irrelevent and was anticipated because of the limited millisecond stick spacing available on the Vulcan bomb distributor. An attack down the runway would likely have resulted in no strikes at all (crosswind/aiming issues) so, as is common with retard conventional weapons delivered in a laydown attack against a runway target, a desired cutting angle is calculated dependent upon the length of the runway (how many cuts can we achieve with how many aircraft?) and the width of the runway to determine the stick spacing and therefore the number of bombs that will hit the runway and prevent subsequent take-off (one stick rarely does the trick). QWIs usually calculate to put the middle bomb of a stick on the runway and, try as one might, it is virtually impossible to get more than one bomb (perhaps half a bomb crater on each side but that would not provide a Prevent Take Off kill) on any runway unless it is almost as wide as it is long. That's why we bought JP233 to provide a greater number of craters than was possible with a conventional retarded stick; just a shame that the peaceniks decided that the HB876 bomblets might harm somebody when that's exactly what they were designed to do!
So, it was a Vulcan because it was a strategic mission, it had the capability to do it and required fewer tankers than a couple of Buccs who might have made 2 cuts but would have been a logistical nightmare in getting them down there (without a mother carrier) under wartime conditions.
Turning now to the Bucc. Yes it did have limited gear box oil availability but at least 2 did actually deploy to the Falklands after Corporate was over to let the Argentinians know that we could deploy a strike force to protect the islands if that indeed became necessary. I was on Buccs at Laarbruch at the time and I believe that although the Bucc was considered for Black Buck it was eventually decided not to use it as we, in Germany, were still assigned to SACEUR and those at Lossie were assigned to SACLANT with all that that entailed on the Strike options.
Perhaps of interest is the fact that the Bucc has, oops that should be had, actually got very good legs unrefuelled and better than the Tornado for sure. The Laarbruch wing crossed the Atlantic without AAR en route to Red Flag by routing St Mawgan; Lajes; Gander. I was also involved in the flight planning of a round the world trip with 2 Buccaneers that did not use AAR and took in some rather exotic locations over 30 days, accompanied by a freighter VC10 with spare crews and engines on board, as we planned to bid farewell to the World when the Buccs were withdrawn from Germany! It was the Laarbruch Staish's idea and it was achievable with 23,000lb of gas on board (that includes the bomb bay ferry tank); however RAFG put the kybosh on it because it would have begged the question of whether the aircraft replacing it could do likewise.
Remember the day that the Bucc refuelled the Tornado on a mission from UK to Cyprus? The Bucc tanked the Tornado all the way down over Italy and returned to the UK whilst the Tornado just made it on to Cyprus!
Memory fades but I think most if not all of the above is kosher.
Weapons Effort Planning lecture over!
(Last flew the Bucc on 14 Nov 08 at Thunder City! Brilliant!)
FW: I was in a special hole in the ground during these events, splitting with my above ground day job in a certain Tornado office. My understanding of the Tornado to Cyprus (one of TWCU's jets if I remember correctly) was that it did not land at Akrotiri and went straight back to Honington (refuelled of course). The aim of the flight was to make accurate measurements of oil and LOX consumption. We were also looking at it taking the even more secret JP233 with it - I think it is that which Beags remembers making the ODM guys cry.
You're probably right, I did say that the memory fades. In fact, now that I think about it, I think that it was the Bucc that made it all the way to Cyprus having given its fuel to the Tornado - was that it?
As a total bombing amateur, the planting of 1x1000lb'er, a third along the length of the runway at Stanley does actually make some sense.
1. It reduced the TODA/LDA to Argentinian jet fighters. 2. As already pointed out, it certainly made a 'point' that the mainland wasn't immune from a visit. 3. And if you want the ground troops to capture the only airfield (with a viable FJ runway), that you'd wish to use later, it would be better to have only 1 hole in that runway, rather than 21 it could have possibly have!
Anyway, at the end of the day, it was a bloody good effort all round.
Was the Vulcan used because it was a useful way to demonstrate its utility… i.e. the RAF wanted to retain the large/medium bomber capability?
Err, no. The withdrawal of the Vulcan from service had been agreed and planned some years earlier, and I don't think it could have been changed by anything that happened in the Falklands.
If you haven't read "Vulcan 607" yet, I highly recommend it - it's a cracking read and a really human account of the effort that went into Black Buck. You might also be quite surprised at how much the RAF did in the Falklands that one doesn't hear much about, such as the long-range MR sorties flown by the Victors and Nimrods.
I have to correct you, folding wings, the Vulcan did not deliver retard bombs but ballistic 1,000 pounders. Retarded bombs, in any case, would not achieve the required penetration to create the runway damage required.
As for the calculation used to achieve best results, stick spacing and anticipated crater diameter determined the cut angle to deny minimum clear width and weapon release was calculated to hit the runway with the middle of the stick.
In fact, as is well documented, the release error of the first Vulcan attack was such that the first bomb of the stick hit the far third of the runway and barely denied minimum clear width. However, the strategic effect was not only to persuade against use of the airfield by fast jets throughout the war but also to redeploy mainland based aircraft in defence of BA. A good night's work.
Much has been posted about the Bucc's oil consumption but the F4 with two speys flew non-stop to Singapore in the early 70's so that was not the reason it was not used. Both Bucc and Tornado were considered but the Vulcan was selected. Incidentally, the Nimrod crews also looked at bomb delivery and in training achieved better results than the Vulcan crews.
This thread brought to mind something I read years ago, an extract from a history of the Falklands in which Dr. Samuel Johnson was employed to 'play down' reports of a 'foreign invasion' of the islands.
Dr. Johnson obliged with a pamphlet calling the Falklands "an island which not even the southern savages have dignified with habitation." It was a place fit only for smugglers and buccaneers, he wrote, and any British garrison sent there would "contemplate with envy the exiles of Siberia."
Incidentally, the Nimrod crews also looked at bomb delivery and in training achieved better results than the Vulcan crews.
I was closely involved with the Nimrod weapons programme during Corporate and feel that the "results" you refer to may be somewhat selective. The Nimrod crews were only trained in visual delivery of the retard 1000lb bomb and the BL755 cluster bomb. The intended targets were maritime, i.e. surfaced submarines or ships, there was never any intent that they would be employed on land attack missions, with the obvious exception of Garvie Island!
The Nimrod bomb bay was measured up for LGBs, that occurred one Sunday afternoon, but that was as far as it went. We did ask how the designation was to achieved; with a regard to framing the necessary operational procedures; but received no reply.
In the middle of this Harpoon appeared and although we trained on the missile I don't believe that it was ever deployed on an operational sortie.
WRT Tornado and Buccaneer missions, I was told that when to navigator who had been closeted with the Tornado ODMs and some South Atlantic charts emerged his words were, "Not really the Tornado's kind of war". That pretty well summed it up.
Some possible Buccaneer missions were examined, but these concentrated on potential maritime targets, primarily the carrier 25th May. How well received these would have been by their crews would have been interesting as some of the likely profiles ended half way back.
I do wonder at the uninformed idiocy when I see post like that of BarbiesBoyfriend, which just look to start a fight. The Falklands was a stunning maritime effort and maritime was clearly the ‘supported command’. But the idea that the services operated (or even the capability or authority to operate) as an independent arm is ridiculous; this view is not supported in any knowledgeable account or factual record of the conflict. Wining the war was far from certain and gambling UK lives to score points is more than a little far fetched and rather insulting to those who served us so well.
Whilst the ‘tip of the spear’ in the Black Buck raids was unique, the sorties themselves were not. The use of massive strategic reach via AAR was ‘routine’ (well as routine as these gobsmackingly difficult sorties could be) during the conflict. Victors conducted the longest range MRR sorties ever seen, Nimrod MR2 / R1s conducted a range of activities and the Hercs conducted record-breaking long range air drop and para sorties across the South Atlantic operating area. Virtually all these sorties were in direct support of the maritime campaign – a true joint effort. Changing the tip of the AAR spear from a Herc / Nimrod / Victor to the Vulcan was a new challenge to the AAR force, but it was one of many such challenges over that period.
Can anyone imagine the difficulty of maintaining a ‘surface picture’ under EMCON over such a vast area without MRR, ELINT, Maritime Recce or being able to operate a couple of carriers in such conditions? Can anyone imagine protecting the UK fleet without an Argentinean Navy fearful of the Nimrod MR2 force? Can anyone imagine running a surface fleet so hard in such challenging conditions without the air drop of critical spares? Can anyone imagine running the Harrier force in the mud-moving role without Argentinean radars fearing SEAD, post the Shrike raid? Can anyone imagine SF units being stuck on the wrong bit of the globe without being ‘dispatched’ to the awaiting ships below?
The air component was far from a ‘one-trick-pony’.
Having been on the range at Larkhill filming the drop of 21 live retarded 1000lb bombs, the the effects of having 21 dropped near you would have been far more demoralising on the enemy troops than a couple of LGB bombs.