RAF Regiment gunner recalls his role in Falklands liberation
23 May 07
An RAF Regiment gunner has been recalling his experiences of 25 years ago when he was one of the many thousands of British military personnel who sailed south to help liberate the Falkland Islands.
WO Pat Patel at Stanley airfield. Argentine POWs can be seen in the background
Warrant Officer Pat Patel, currently serving at the Airmen's Command School, RAF Halton, was a member of the RAF Harrier Force that deployed to the Islands following the invasion by Argentine forces in April 1982.
Part of a small RAF Regiment team responsible for the setting up of airfield defences when the Harrier Force was deployed, at the time of the Falklands campaign Pat was a corporal whose job was to train and advise personnel on Force Protection.
Shortly after the invasion a decision was made to send a number of Harriers to join the main Task Force which was already en route to the South Atlantic. Pat and his colleagues were tasked to prepare the Squadron for the battle that would inevitably follow:
"We were always ready for such an event and trained regularly," Pat explained. "However, this was 'for real', therefore the level of command training and preparations was more intense and had direction."Pat and his team travelled to the Falklands with the Harriers which were loaded onto a Sea Link Ferry that was on its way to the scrap yard but which had been re-commissioned and converted to a troop carrier.
WO Pat Patel raises the RAF Ensign at Stanley
On their way to joining the Task Torce, they kept themselves busy, enforcing a schedule of training on board ship. From 8am to 4pm they sharpened their skills on weapons handling, fitness, personal survival and live firing. This helped to bond the Squadron into an effective team while also helping get them into the right frame of mind. The training was extended to the civilian crew who bought into the training ethos:
"Our journey took us past Africa and close to Ascension Island," Pat continued. "We experienced all variations of climate, and took part in the traditional equator dipping ceremony, which helped maintain a high level of morale and take our minds off what the journey was for - to take us to war.
"Things began to get more serious as we experienced very high and dangerous seas in a ship that did not have stabilisers. It was not a journey enjoyed by even the most experienced members of the crew, and we had to endure this for several days before joining the Task Force, who were stationed 200 miles from Port Stanley.
"What was more of a concern was our fresh water plant, which kept breaking down. Also the Gurkhas, who were not used to sea travel, were suffering badly from the forced movement of the ship. At this point we became very focused, having been told to move around the ship with caution and to man our anti-aircraft guns in case of an attack from the air.
"I will never forget the scene of the faces of sadness and failure amongst the prisoners and the heaps of weapons and ammunition lying all over the place." WO Pat Patel
"We were now part of the 'force' and received information from the Battle ships as things developed. In all it took us six weeks to connect with the Task Force from the day we left Plymouth Harbour."
Although the journey was challenging Pat feels he was well prepared when he arrived in the Falkland Islands, despite the ship having limited protection, offering an easy target for any enemy aircraft. However, within days of Pat's arrival the conflict was all over. He and the Squadron then sailed to help liberate Port Stanley:
"Twenty four hours later we were flown onto the airfield to have our first experience of the battle that had ensued and to inspect the runway. As we approached the airfield some 6,000 prisoners were scattered all around; an aftermath of the war.
"As we landed, we walked on the runway and surrounding area and came in contact with the Argentine prisoners of war. I will never forget the scene of the faces of sadness and failure amongst the prisoners and the heaps of weapons and ammunition lying all over the place.
Training was provided for the civilian crew on board the ferry as they journeyed down to the South Atlantic
"The look of defeat was obvious and the discipline and control was noticeably different from the conscripted civilians to the professional soldier. I was given the task of raising the RAF Ensign for the first time at Stanley Airfield on what was the only surviving aerial mast close to the Air Traffic Control building."
Pat and the rest of the Squadron began to settle into a routine, moving into a civilian property in Stanley. Each day they would return to the airfield, setting up tents, bringing supplies such as food and water so that they could operate effectively from the airport.
"We cleared up the airfield and set up a forward operating base for our Harriers to operate from. The important prisoners were searched, disarmed and sent to our ship. My fond memories of the campaign was how the British troops involved worked together as one and the friendships that had developed through their own experiences cannot be described.
"We were tasked with the guarding of General Menendez which was quite an experience in itself. I had experienced a liberation of people, experienced something that you would not normally have seen during the early 1980s and those memories will remain with me forever. I spent six months on the islands but I have to say, it was such a pleasure returning to my family and friends again in England!"Defence Internet News