Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nuclear weapons deployed during the Falklands Conflict 1982

US Navy testing an ASROC NDB in 1962
One of the things that is talked about in hush tones about the Falklands Conflict is the deployment of nuclear weapons by the British with their task force.  This of course is done for good reasons, one they could have been violation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which makes Latin America a nuclear weapons “Free Zone”, and secondly the public relations backlash if they did confirmed that nuclear weapons were indeed with the task force.  Even today, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) official statement is that they can either confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons, but that the task force was instructed not to enter the territorial waters of the Falkland Islands with their nuclear weapons (violating the Treaty of Tlatelolco).  But in an official document from the MoD states the nuclear weapons that were part of the task force did not arrive back the UK until two to six weeks after the hostiles had ended on the RFA Fort Austin and RFA Resource, respectfully.  A PDF of the eight page MoD’s document can be found here (link - click on the link "View the item you were looking for"). In this entry, I am going to write up a bit about these nuclear weapons, what happen with them during the conflict, and how will this will play into my upcoming Falklands naval games (and bit more on that too).  I am hoping that anyone playing a combined arms Falklands campaign can use this information to make a more interesting campaign.

So, what nuclear weapons did the British have?

WE.177A nuclear depth bomb - inert

According to the MoD, they only had the WE.177A nuclear depth bombs (NDB), or the official nomenclature, “Bomb, Aircraft, HE 600lb, MC (Medium Capacity)”   To my knowledge, the Royal Navy did not have nuclear armed torpedoes for their submarines.

The WE.177A was designed to be dropped from either an RAF or a RN aircraft or helicopter, with either a 0.5 kt or a 10 kt warhead depending on the depth or location of the enemy forces.  The WE.177A was also designed for either air burst, ground burst, or submerge burst.

Westland Wasp carring a WE.177A

As I am only interested in discussing the immediately availability of the NDB’s by the task force at the time of the Falklands operation, I am limiting the following list of aircrafts capable of delivering the NDB within the task force at that time.  Those aircraft include for depth charge attacks only: the Westland Wessex HAS.3, the Westland Wessex HUS, and the Wessex Wasp.  The Sea Harrier FAS.1 was capable of dropping the WE.177A in laydown (parachute to delay impact), retarded (time fuze to detonate after impact) to allow the jet more time to escape.  Also, the HMS Bristol was able to deploy the WE.177A with its Ikara missile system. 

What ships had the NDB’s? 

HMS Hermes and Invincible in 1982
In the MoD’s document, they show which ships were carrying live NDB’s, training NDB’s, and surveillance rounds.  I am only interested in the live rounds for now, so the following ships had live NDB’s assigned to them prior to sailing for the Falklands: Invincible, Hermes, Broadsword, Brilliant, Fort Austin, Regent, and Resource. It should be noted that the Broadsword removed her training NDB’s prior to sailing, but the live NDB’s did set sail with her towards the Falklands.  It should also be noted that these ships were carrying a significant percent of all of the NBD’s in the Royal Navy inventory.  I will be touching on how many in my next section.

Why did the ships not off load their NDB’s at shore, either the UK or Ascension Islands?

There was a major argument to fully off load the NDB’s to a safe land location would have delayed the Falklands operations and put the time schedule in jeopardy (remember, they were in a rush to beat the sever winter conditions which could have stopped all operations.)  The ships had only 24 hours at port and it was determined that it would take another 36 hours more to safely removed all of the NDB’s.  This delay could have also alerted the Argentine forces that the RN was located at the Ascension Islands and to be better prepared for their arrival.

What happen to the NDB’s in the task force? 

According to the MoD, most of the NDB’s were transferred at sea (by helicopter or Landing craft) to ships in the task force with deep magazines (deep in the ship and most heavily protected from bomb attacks.)  Those ships with the deep magazines were the following: Hermes, Invincible, Fort Austin, and Resource.  The Hermes was the most heavily protected and it was expected that only had a moderate chance of damage from a mine or torpedo and minimal chance from an Exocet missile.  The protection on the other ships had a greater chance of damage from torpedoes.  In the MoD’s document, it shows when and which ships transferred their NDB’s to which specific ship with a deep magazine.  By the end of the transfers the Hermes was carrying 40% (!) of the entire RN’s NDB’s inventory (not the task force, the whole RN!), the Invincible was carrying 25% (!), and the Fort Austin and Resource was carrying even more, but not noted.  So just between the two task force carriers, 65% of all the RN’s NBD’s was located. 

What would have happen had one the ships with the NDB’s been hit?

HMS Brillant, only ship damaged with NDB's aboard, but they were the training type

According the MoD, there would not have been an nuclear explosion (which would be true, look at my previous entry on my visiting of the atomic bomb site that was dropped on Mars Station, SC.)  However, there could have been radioactive release; if the ships were still afloat, immediate decontamination of any radioactive material and the removal of the remaining NDB’s to any of the remain deep magazine ships; if the ship sank, the NDB’s were either temporary or permanently lost for NATO operations, and possible recovery by Argentine salvage operations.  This is not even including public relations nightmares for the British and could cripple their future of having ships visit other ports.

How will this fit into a Falklands game or campaign?

I have the rules set, Shipwreck, based on the recommendations by Rusty Nail over at his blog, "Hurry Up and Wait!" (link) (If you are interested in the Falklands, I highly recommend it!).  I also got to play it a couple of times while I was working in Savannah, GA.  I really like the system and plan to use that for my Falklands naval campaign.  I have 1/6000 ships from Hallmark that I will use, but might consider bumping up to 1/3000.  But the cost, size, and availability of the ships used in the Falklands conflict got me to buy the 1/6000.  I am going to try to start painting these up myself (!) over the holidays as they should be fairly easy to paint.  But I digressed from the topic…

I am looking at a board scope for my Falklands games and the naval action is a major part of it.  First off, I am fairly confident that Thatcher would have never authorized the use of the NDB’s during the Falklands conflict, so the RN can’t use them for what they are designed for against the Argentine forces.  So, the first thing is do I off-load the NDB’s at Ascension?  If I do, that means add two more days to arrive in the area of operations, plus a greater chance of detection by the Argentine’s 707 recon plane.  This will also mean a more aggressive land operation for when I am doing that to reach Port Stanley before winter conditions forces the operation to end.  Do I remove the NDB’s to the deep magazine ships?  There should be a chance to lose a NDB during the transfer and that will cause some political loss of Victory Points to reflect the need to go back and recover the lost NDB.  If chose not to transfer, I need to keep track of which ships have their NDB’s for possible air/submarine attacks.  If a ship with NDB’s is hit, is there a radioactive release (this will be a greater chance in a ship without a deep magazine)?  Do I have to I have to assign helicopters to transfer the undamaged NDB’s inside of have them for a anti-submarine screen?  Needless to say, if the Hermes is hit and sinks before a transfer could take place, there would be a major Political loss for various reasons. I have not figure up any hard points or rules for any of this, but this is brain food for people to think about.




Benoit said...

Very interesting but if :

"I am fairly confident that Thatcher would have never authorized the use of the NDB’s during the Falklands conflicté"

then, why did she support to bring them there ? I cannot imagine she was not aware of the embedded NBD's. What is your opinion ?

Kind regards,


Pete. said...

Nice ideas for the game, it gives the RN player an extra logistical challenge (relatively simple but with massive ramifications if anything goes wrong) which in a campaign game adds the right kind of pressure to keep things going.



Simon Quinton said...

That was an interesting read. As to Benoit's comment about authorising them. There wasn't time to unload them.

Just because there equipped with such devices doesn't mean they have the permission to use them.

The Rusty Nail said...

Hello Joe, This is a fascinating post covering an area of the Falklands campaign that I haven't explored to any great extent in gaming terms. I very much like the way you have considered the geo-political and logistics issues inherent in the presence of nuclear weapons in order to create limitations and consequences for your campaign. I look forward to seeing how this thread develops. Aye, Rusty

Sapper Joe said...