Aircraft Carrier Showdown: The Falklands War Nearly Set A World-First Record For Naval Warfare

Aircraft Carrier Showdown: The Falklands War Nearly Set A World-First Record For Naval Warfare

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Latin America

Two modern aircraft carriers almost went head-to-head.

Key point: Mild weather saved the day.

On the afternoon of May 1, 1982, crewmen on the deck of the Argentine carrier Veinticinco de Mayo (“May 25”) scrambled to load six A-4Q Skyhawk attack planes with four Mark 82 bombs each.

The subsonic jets were to be the tip of the spear of Argentine Navy Task Force 79 as it attacked a British Royal Navy fleet roughly 140 miles away, including the carriers Hermes and Invincible, eight escorting destroyers and fifteen frigates.

The opposing fleets were facing off over the sparsely-populated Falkland Islands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina. A month earlier, Argentine troops had seized the disputed archipelago. Now the British warships were covering amphibious forces moving to take the islands back.

Few of the half-dozen Argentine aviators expected to survive the attack, dubbed “Banzai Night” after the famous Japanese battle cry. In the book A Carrier at Risk by Mariano Sciaroni, the Skyhawk squadron’s leader Rodolfo Castro Fox reveals the grim calculations behind the planned attack:

By using the table of probabilities, considering the capabilities of British anti-aircraft defences, of our six initial aircraft, four would get into position to drop their bombs and only two would make it back.

Of the sixteen bombs that we would release, there would be a probability of impact of 25 percent, in other words, four bombs of 500 pounds. This could neutralize the carrier and the loss of four aircraft would be acceptable.

Following the strike, a squadron of three Argentine A69-class corvettes would attempt to capitalize on the chaos and their small radar-cross sections to launch a surprise missile attack using Exocet MM38 missiles fired from over twenty miles away.

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