Frank Milligan and Operation Black Buck
There were 7 Operation Black Buck raids but the first one is the most famous. It took place on 30 April – 1 May 1982 and involved 2 Vulcans, 15 Victor tankers and the plan called for 18 fuel transfers. Flt Lt Frank Milligan was one of the chosen Victor pilots. There is much information about the raid on the internet but you may find the book about the raid, Vulcan 607 by Rowland White, the most interesting.
Extracts from Vulcan 607 by Rowland White:
Chapter 34 page 287
At 0520, an hour and a half before sunrise and six and a half hours after the first thirteen aircraft had departed, the first of four Victors accelerated with a buzzsaw roar down Ascension’s long runway and climbed away over the sea. As they left the Wideawake circuit they set course for the Rio RV, an agreed lat/long point above the South Atlantic over three hours’ flying time to the south-west. Barry Neal and his crew had been on the ground for less than two hours. Two of the other crews had also already flown that night. For one of them, Frank Milligan’s crew, which included the Victor detachment boss, Alan Bowman, as its Nav Plotter, it was a chance to make up for their disappointment earlier on. They’d been forced to return within an hour of BLACK BUCK’s launch with a faulty HDU. They were flying the same Victor now. XL163 had her chance to make amends. The departing formation had just one task: to bring the Vulcan home.
Three minutes after the departure of the recovery wave, Red Rag Control began picking up transmissions through the static on the HF. Somebody was trying to make contact.
High-frequency – or shortwave – radio had long been used as a method of long-range communication by the RAF. It works through the radio transmissions being reflected by the ionosphere and being bounced back towards the earth’s surface, hundreds of miles below. But while communication over great distances is possible, HF is vulnerable to the effects of changing atmospheric conditions. Night or day summer or winter, even the eleven-year solar cycle and sunspots affect the ionosphere’s ability to reflect radio waves and, as a result, the performance of HF radio communications. As listeners to the BBC’s World Service know only too well, frequencies can strengthen and fade through the course of a single night.
The variable quality of HF reception in the Ops tent at Wideawake meant that following the mission’s progress involved guesswork, intuition and anticipation. Little could be entirely relied on and much of what was picked up made no sense at all.
Chapter 36 pages 305 and 306
The new day came quickly close to the equator and, hidden behind the volcanic hills that crowd Wideawake, the first orange glow of dawn grew quickly into the flat light of early morning, Jerry Price and the Red Flag team had made it through the night and forestalled disaster, but an accurate picture of BLACK BUCK’s progress was still elusive.
X-ray Four Lima. In the dust and fug of the Ops tent, call signs ebbed and flowed over the HF, but while they could be ascribed to a particular crew and aircraft, their meaning was often impossible to interpret.
Charlie Five Tango. That was Skelton.
Seven Echo Foxtrot, authenticate: Milligan, being asked to provide the one-letter code that would prove he was who he said he was. Did it mean there was a problem?
Price could only second-guess what was going on further south. While fractured transmissions were coming in from the tankers closest to Ascenscion, there was nothing from beyond the second fuel bracket, as the attack formation pushed south in strict HF radio silence. Although unaware of the pasting the attack formation was taking from the storm Price knew his own conclusions about the shape they were in. He wasn’t sure how desperate they might be on the return flight, but, after tge close calls earlier, he was sure that their situation wouls be precarious. They would not have the fuel they needed. He wanted TATs airborne and ready to bring home his two long-slots: Tuxford and Biglands. At 6.15, price ordered two further Victors to prepare to get airborne at 7.30. And while the measured, thoughtful tones in which he spoke barely betrayed the strain, the restless smoking left no doubt.
Minutes later Milligan’s presence on the airwaves became clear. Victor 163,s HDU had failed again. As the sky outside turned from black to blue, Frank Milligan’s AEO called Red Flag control to say they were on their way home early for the second time that night. They hadn’t even been airborne an hour. Price couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Poor old Milligan, he thought, knowing the unfortunate crew, including his friend Alan Bowman, would be in for a ribbing in some quarters. It was the way of things. But aside from the blushes and frustration of the crew, their return meant that the redundancy in the recovery formation was now gone. Two of the remaining three Victors would now fill the tanks of Barry Neal’s Victor as close to the Rio RV as possible. They would then leave him to fly alone to the holding point, a few hundred miles out over the Atlantic, abeam the Brazilian capital. The plan had called for two Victors to wait there. Now there was no redundancy. If there was a problem with Neal’s jet that prevented him from transferring fuel to the Vulcan, the bomber wouldn’t make it back to Ascension. Not for the first or last time that night, their eggs were, once more, in one basket.
If you want to learn more about the operation here are some links you may find helpful:
Wikepedia: Operation Black Buck
YouTube/The Operations Room: Black Buck One, the Vulcan Raid on the Falklands
YouTube/FSX Movie:Operation Black Buck: Operation Black Buck
YouTube/RAF100 Schools Project: Operation Black Buck
YouTube/Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire: Reflections on Operation Black Buck
Victor XM715: Black Buck 1 Anniversary Day 30th April 2017