Refresher training for all aircrew about Conduct After Capture - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Refresher training for all aircrew about Conduct After Capture

One afternoon in 1982, just before the start of the Falklands War, a chap from DI3(Air)(ROW) in London rang me up out of the blue at my office in JSIW. His title told me that he was a middle-ranking officer in Defence Intelligence and that he had special responsibility for the air forces of the Rest of the World, which was at that time defined roughly as the entire world apart from the Soviet Union. Looking back from 2019 it's quite remarkable how important the rest of the world is now but, as a country, we still can't agree about what to do with Russia!

"I can’t tell you why I want to know, but what can you tell me about the Pucara aircraft?" said DI3(Air)(ROW) by way of introduction. I replied that I had never heard of that type of aircraft, but I would look it up and call him back in a few minutes. All I had was an up-to-date copy of 'Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft' on my shelf - that's an unclassified book that anyone can buy. I called DI3(Air)(ROW) back and told him the exact page numbers he needed to learn everything there was to know about the Pucara and the Argentine Air Force.

"I'll have to go down to the MoD library and see if they have a copy," he said, in a disappointed and rather worried tone. "If they haven't, I'll ring you back and get you to make a photocopy of the relevant pages and you can fax them to me. It is rather important."

DI3(Air)(ROW) didn't ring me back but, the very next day, news of the invasion of the Falklands burst onto the world's media and, all of a sudden, I knew the reason for the phone call of the day before. Discussing the matter with my fellows at Templer Barracks, I opined that it was astonishing that the RAF's Defence Intelligence Staff at MoD apparently had no knowledge of the Argentine Air Force's Order of Battle. One Intelligence Corps officer wryly remarked that nothing about MoD ever surprised him.

The RAF ordered that all aircrew who might become involved in Operation Corporate (the codename adopted for the Falklands War) were to be given refresher training in conduct after capture and resistance to enemy interrogation. So it was that on the early morning of 16 April 1982 I drove from Templer Barracks to RAF Wittering, near Stamford, to give my presentation to the Harrier aircrew. (My Royal Navy and Army colleagues went off to give similar presentations at their own Service establishments.) The Harrier pilots listened politely to my talk, but their minds were clearly on other things. It was unfortunate that the only operational Harrier pilot at Wittering who did not attend my briefing, because he was engaged on an essential air test on his Harrier, was the one who would be captured and interrogated by the Argentines after they had shot him down. (More about him on a later page.)

After a quick lunch, I drove across the Fens to RAF Marham to repeat my lecture for the Victor tanker aircrew based there. It was my first visit to Marham since 1976. An old colleague from 55 Squadron, Jerry Price, was now Station Commander. He knew, but didn't mention to me because operational aircraft movements were classified Top Secret, that he would be flying out to Ascension Island the following day leading a fleet of Victor tankers and, once there, he would assume the role of Task Force Air Commander.

During my briefing at Marham I got a hard time from the Victor aircrew, many of whom had been at Marham since the early 1970s and knew me well. They gave me a hard time for reasons which I understood perfectly: they had heard it all before! Let's face it: the instruction I had to impart was not really realistic in the face of what had officially been assessed by the MoD as likely to be a cruel enemy - the Argentines. I knew that; the Victor crews knew that; they knew that I knew they knew that! Most listened politely. In a gallant attempt to show interest, a few made token challenges to my teaching but all I could do was reiterate official policy which was, even in 1982, still based largely on lessons supposedly learned in the 2nd World War and in Vietnam. I was required to emphasise that divulging any information in addition to the Big Four (Service number, rank, name and date of birth) was deemed to be collaboration with the enemy, with all that that implied. When pressed for information beyond the Big Four, they were supposed to say politely: "I cannot answer that question" and hope that their interrogator would accept that. I returned home to Ashford after a very long, very tiring, and very frustrating day out of the office.

I had already known for several days, but neither of my two audiences did, that the very next day I would be flying down to Montevideo on a clandestine mission to join up with, and debrief, the Royal Marines who had been captured on South Georgia and who were about to be deported by the Argentines. The Marines were thought likely to have vital intelligence about enemy activities on South Georgia and in the Falkland Islands. The Ministry of Defence thought it important enough to send a three-man team from JSIW all the way to the South Atlantic to debrief the Marines and then signal the intelligence gained back to UK as quickly as possible.

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