On 1 May 1982 the RAF and the UK Task Force launched the first bombing raids on Port Stanley airfield, East Falklands. The first attack, in the early morning, by an Avro Vulcan was soon followed by Sea Harriers (SHARs) from HM aircraft carriers Hermes and Invincible who carried out a low level attack on the airfield, the day, for those that remember, when the BBC’s Brian Hanrahan, “I counted them all out and I counted them all back”.
On Sunday 1 May 2022, 40 years later, the Museum held a ‘Falklands Day’ to mark and remember this important day.
Amongst the 26 guests hosted by the Museum were three of the pilots who took part in that SHAR raid; Neill Thomas, CO of 899 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), Robin Kent, Senior Pilot of 801 NAS and Paul Barton who, as an RAF Flight Lieutenant, had been seconded to 801 NAS. Paul, later that day, was the first SHAR pilot to shoot down an Argentinian fighter (a Mirage III) with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
Other pilots attending were Mike Beech who, later in the war, with three others, flew RAF Harrier GR3 aircraft the 4,000 miles from Ascension Island to HMS Hermes, to make their first landing on an aircraft carrier and Harry Burgoyne, a C130 Hercules pilot, who flew many long range missions in support of the Task Force (he was the first C130 pilot to be Air-to-Air refuelling qualified). Harry was also the pilot selected to fly Sir Rex Hunt, Governor of the Falklands, back to the islands at the end of the 74 day war.
Some 300 members of the public who attended the day were able to see at close quarters the Museum’s two Harriers, one of which, Sea Harrier XZ459, is a Falkland’s veteran having carried out 53 operations in the South Atlantic (49 combat air patrols and 4 bombing missions). The other Harrier (XV744) is a GR3 version, as flown during the war by RAF No 1 (F) Squadron from HMS Hermes.
On that first mission on 1 May 1982 XZ459 was flown by Lieutenant Commander ‘Gordon ‘Gordy’ Batt. Sadly, Gordy was killed, some three weeks later, when his SHAR, after launching, was seen to explode ahead of Hermes. He was posthumously awarded the DSC for his bravery, having carried out 29 missions. The Museum was pleased to host three of the Batt family, his widow Diana and two of Gordy’s children, Andrew and Joanna. During the day’s event a dedication of XZ459 was held in memory of Gordy, the short service being conducted by the Museum’s Honorary Chaplain, Rev’d Trevor Marshall.
Photos: David Burleigh