5 May: Quieter day for Carrier Battle Group

While the deadly attack on destroyer HMS Sheffield on 4 May 1982 was still causing shockwaves amongst the ships of the British task force, and back home in the UK, the same effect was being felt by Argentine forces over the loss of ARA General Belgrano two days earlier.


Mindful of the risk posed by British nuclear attack submarine, by the end of 4 May many ships of the Argentine task force, TF79, were heading back to port in Argentina, including aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, which also flew off her aircraft, diminishing the immediate threat to British warships in the South Atlantic.


There was still the danger posed by Argentine submarine ARA San Luis, which remained at sea, but her commander was obliged to exercised caution in the face of the anti-submarine capabilities of the British task group.


So on Wednesday 5 May 1982 there were two rescue operations under way – survivors from the Belgrano were still being recovered from south of the Falklands, while any thoughts of restoring Sheffield to operational readiness any time soon had been banished soon after the Exocet missile strike.


The Carrier Battle Group moved further east, away from the South American mainland, leaving the hulk of the Type 42 destroyer to burn  and smoulder over the next few days.


Admiral Woodward, the Battle Group Commander, decided against sinking the crippled ship immediately for two reasons – first, the floating hulk might attract the San Luis, hunting for rescue ships, which could be eliminated from the conflict, and second, the Royal Navy officer still hoped Sheffield could still be towed to South Georgia for salvaging, provided she was not torn apart by an explosion in her Sea Dart magazine.


Elsewhere in the Total Exclusion Zone around the Falkland Islands, tanker RFA Olmeda undertook a gruelling ten replenishments at sea (RASes) with various ships of the Carrier Battle Group on 5 May.


Over at Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island, three of the final four RAF Harrier GR3s to fly in from RAF St Mawgan in the UK arrived safely; the fourth arrived on Ascension a day late, having been forced to divert to Banjul in The Gambia.


On 3 May a similar diversion was necessary because the Victor tanker could not take on sufficient fuel from another tanker en route to shepherd all three Harriers to Ascension, and instead diverted to The Gambia with the final GR3; both aircraft refuelled on the ground and arrived at Ascension late in the evening of the same day.


On 4 May two Harrier GR3s again flew directly from the UK to Ascension, but the third experienced engine problems and landed ay Porto Santo in Madeira. That aircraft flew back to the UK, leaving nine of the planned ten GR3s on Ascension.


Otherwise 5 May was a relatively quiet day for the ships of the Carrier Battle Group.


Today’s image from the Imperial War Museum collection (© IWM FKD 1169) shows a Handley Page/Hawker Siddeley Victor K2 tanker of 57 Sqn RAF at Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island. Victors from 55 Sqn and 57 Sqn carried out reconnaissance patrols and in-flight refuelling for everything from the Avro Vulcan bombers attacking Stanley airfield on Operation Black Buck to Harriers flying in from the UK and West Africa.


* These posts can only give a brief sense of what was a complex and fast-moving situation 40 years ago, and cannot cover the involvement of every ship, squadron and unit in detail – for a much more comprehensive account see naval-history.net at https://www.naval-history.net/NAVAL1982FALKLANDS.htm



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