Find a Security Clearance Job!


SA 341 Gazelle Combat Operations

On the night of Thursday 20 May 1982, Her Majesty's forces re-established a secure base on the Falkland Islands. Seven weeks earlier Argentine forces had invaded the Falkland Islands, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated that the Falkland Islands remained British territory, that no aggression and no invasion could alter that simple fact, and that it was the Government's objective to see that the islanders were freed from occupation. Argentine forces did not interfere to any significant extent with the landing itself. The amphibious ships involved in the first stages of the operation were able to withdraw without incident to safer waters to the east of the Falkland Islands.

The British conducted helicopter escort operations in the Falklands War, using Gazelle helicopters to escort Sea Kings ashore. In one situation, two of the Gazelle gunships were shot down while escorting a logistics mission near the front lines. This was important in the fact that the gunships rather than the transports were shot down.

The landing itself was complemented by attacks in other parts of the Falklands including the airfield at Goose Green and bombardment of military installations south of Port Stanley. Carrier-based RAF Harriers launched attacks against Argentine defences at Port Stanley airfield. These operations were an essential part of the overall plan. In the course of these operations three Royal Marines were killed when their Gazelle helicopters were shot down.

On 6 June 1982, night flying conditions were excellent with a clear sky and a prominent moon and a wind speed of some 20 knots. The Gazelle was flying from 162W 5 Brigade headquarters, at Darwin, to Pleasant Peak, a distance of some 19 nautical miles. The helicopter's identification friend or foe (IFF) was switched off because it had been established that at that time the use of this equipment caused interference with other weapons systems critical to the battle. Five Brigade was in contact with the Gazelle until it was shot down, and those at the rebroadcast site saw an explosion and reported it to the headquarters almost immediately. Almost immediately suspicions arose that the helicopter had been shot down by a Sea Dart missile fired from HMS Cardiff; but these suspicions fell well short of certainty, and indeed the situation was confused. In 1985 the Ministry of Defence concluded in the light of all the available evidence that the Sea Dart missile fired by HMS Cardiff must be adjudged the probable cause of the loss of the helicopter.

Because the Gazelle's sortie was to be flown within the airspace of 5 Infantry Brigade on a brigade task, there was no requirement under the standard operating procedures in force at the time for any authority outside the brigade to be informed. At the time of the accident, HMS Cardiff was operating off the east coast of East Falkland on a naval gunfire support mission in support of 3 Commando Brigade. Concurrently, HMS Cardiff had been tasked with enforcing the total exclusion zone and, as part of this, to deter or destroy Argentine aircraft attempting to use Port Stanley airfield.

When HMS Cardiff detected a radar contact over East Falkland on 6 June, it was heading towards Port Stanley airfield along a route previously used by Argentine aircraft. No friendly aircraft movements had been forecast; and there were no identification friend or foe (IFF) or other friendly transmissions from the contact. It was accordingly assessed to be an Argentine aircraft.

In 1982 operations against Israel, the Syrians gained success sending attack helicopters deep. They used French-made "Gazelle" helicopters armed with the High subsonic speed, Optically guideded, and Tube Launched (HOT) antitank missiles. Since the Israelis enjoyed air superiority, the Syrian Gazelles had to avoid air defense radars as they penetrated deep into Israeli-held territory. They surprised Israeli columns moving through the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon causing moderate losses. Great confusion resulted in the remainder of the column greatly delaying their arrival to the main battle area. Even though official Syrian reports are unavailable, the Israeli commanders stated the Syrian helicopter attacks were "very effective".v

On 24 February 1991, when Desert Storm ground operations started in earnest, the French crossed the border unopposed and raced north into the darkness. But before they reached As Salman, the French found some very surprised outposts of the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division. The French commander, General Janvier, immediately sent his missile-armed Gazelle attack helicopters against the dug-in enemy tanks and bunkers. Late intelligence reports had assessed the 45th as only about 50-percent effective after weeks of intensive coalition air attacks and psychological operations, an assessment soon confirmed by feeble resistance. After a brief battle that cost them two dead and twenty-five wounded, the French held 2,500 prisoners and controlled the enemy division area, now renamed ROCHAMBEAU. Janvier pushed his troops on to As Salman, which they took without opposition and designated Objective WHITE. The French consolidated WHITE and waited for an Iraqi counterattack that never came. The allied left flank was secure.

In May 2011, the resolve to deploy combat helicopters gradually grew both in the United Kingdom and France in order to further restrain the ground maneuvers of Gadhafis forces. In the night from 3 to 4 June, French and British combat helicopters for the first time engaged ground targets. British Army Apache helicopters, launched from helicopter carrier HMS Ocean.

Launched from the amphibious assault ship Tonnerre in the night from 3 to 4 June 2011, Tigre and Gazelle combat helicopters engaged approximately 20 ground targets in Libya. The French army combat helicopters reportedly faced incoming fire by man-portable air defence systems. In the first week of French helicopter operations, the number of destroyed military vehicles increased. Among the 70 targets destroyed by French forces from 2 to9 June, approximately 40 were military vehicles, two-thirds of them destroyed by helicopters. In mid-August 2011, French attack helicopters, launching from the amphibious assault ship Mistral, conducted a major interdiction strike.

Join the mailing list