Five in the morning, May 21 1982, seven weeks into the Falklands conflict. The Argentine radar operator at Rio Grande airbase, on the island of Tierra del Fuego, is looking forward to his bed. Outside, rain is blowing across the deserted airfield.
The blip appears out of nowhere, 25 miles out to sea, coming in fast and low. Suddenly alert, the operator calls over his duty officer, but the blip has already faded.
Out over the South Atlantic, two C130 Hercules transports of 47 Squadron Royal Air Force battle through the night. Buffeted by strong headwinds, they skim the waves at 50 feet to evade detection. The co-pilots peer through night‑vision goggles, guiding the pilots towards the coast, one lapse enough to cause disaster. Night vision is in its infancy, the devices a secret gift from the Americans. Tension mounts as landfall over Argentina approaches, the conclusion of a 13‑hour flight from Ascension Island involving two mid-air rendezvous with Victor tankers.
Behind the crews, in the cavernous holds of the Hercules, some 60 men of B Squadron, 22nd SAS Regiment, ready their weapons and vehicles, Land Rovers bristling with machine guns. This is a one‑way mission, the best outcomes being escape to neutral Chile, or capture. The worst outcome is all too obvious.
Minutes later, the C130s slam down on the runway at Rio Grande. The rear doors are already open, the lowered ramps scraping the ground. In an instant, the Land Rovers are charging straight for the apron where four French-built Super Etendard fighters of the Argentine navy stand. Some of the SAS fling charges into the engine intakes while others search for the Etendard pilots, who are to be shot on sight. Another group search for the weapon that above all others threatens Britain with defeat in the South Atlantic: the Exocet. Moments later, the first charges explode. Gunfire erupts. The world dissolves into chaos.
There’s audacity, and then there’s stupidity. This would have been the later.
The SAS, the rough equivalent to our own Special Forces, had quite a number of failures in the Falklands War, quite often due to transportation issues. The political fallout of an attack on the Argentine mainland and the uproar at home from the almost certain loss of SAS troops and RAF aircraft would have been too high a cost to bear.
A tip ‘o the hat to reader Jason S