How the Sea Harrier defeated more superior fighters during the Falklands War

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April, 1982, the Royal Navy sent two carriers — the HMS Invincible and the HMS Hermes — to support the forces that would have the job of taking those islands back.

According to an Air Force study of Argentinian air power, the Argentinians committed 122 combat aircraft – a mixture of A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers (copies of the Mirage V), Super Etendards and Mirage III interceptors. Against this, the Royal Navy had two squadrons of British Aerospace Sea Harriers totaling 20 aircraft, with later reinforcements of eight Sea Harriers and 10 RAF Harriers.

In essence, the ability of the British to take back the Falklands rested on pilots and aircraft fighting while outnumbered six-to-one.

Argentinean Air Force Mirage III fighters (Youtube Screenshot)

The Sea Harrier pilots did have an advantage. The Argentinians only had two aerial refueling aircraft – and that shortage meant only so many planes could be sent on a given strike. Furthermore, their most capable fighters, the Mirages and Daggers, were not equipped for mid-air refueling.

One of the most notable dogfights involving the Sea Harrier took place on June 8, 1982. A pair of RAF Sea Harriers, lead by RAF Flight Lt. David Morgan, engaged four A-4 Skyhawks following up on an attack that had inflicted severe damage on the landing ships HMS Sir Galahad and HMS Sir Tristan.

Gun-camera footage of an Argentinean Air Force A-4 Skyhawk being shot down by RAF Flight Lieutenant David Morgan. (Youtube Screenshot)

Morgan engaged the Skyhawks first, firing two Sidewinders and scoring two kills. His wingman shot down a third. The last Skyhawk fled. Morgan and his wingman then returned to the carrier HMS Hermes. Morgan would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

Six days after that engagement, the Argentinean forces on the Falkland Islands would surrender. The Sea Harrier had proven it was capable of winning a war, even when badly outnumbered. Below, check out this clip from the Smithsonian Channel, which shows footage from Morgan’s engagement with the Argentinean Skyhawks, and see how the Fleet Air Arm was Britain’s 1982 version of “The Few.”