Argentina, and the day – Saturday the 17th of September 1955.
It was the second day of the Revolución Libertadora: the Liberation Revolution in which Argentinian rebels, including sections of the military, rose up against the government of General Juan Domingo Perón. After several days of bloody fighting rebel forces overthrew those loyal to the Perónist government. Perón realising that the country was on the brink of a civil war decided to avoid any further bloodshed. He resigned as President, and sought asylum, initially in neighbouring Paraguay. A coup d’état followed and by 23 September a military dictatorship had been installed to run the country.
Despite Argentina’s historic relationship with Germany and Italy it had been neutral in WW2. However, about 4500 of its young men and women had independently travelled to Britain to help fight against the Axis forces. Of those there were over 600 Argentine volunteers serving with Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons. Most notably with 164 (Argentine) Squadron whose shield bore the sun from the Flag of Argentina together with the motto, Firmes Volamos (Determined We Fly). Perhaps though, the most famous of all the Argentine aviators was Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Maureen Dunlop who had an Australian father and English mother but who was born and lived in Quilmes near to Buenos Aires.
Maureen Dunlop (26/10/1920–29/05/2012)
Argentina had also helped in other ways during the war – it had importantly served as a neutral food source to the Allies supplying grain and beef by sea, its ships not targeted by German U-Boats because of their neutrality.
Even before the end of WW2 Argentina had sought to modernise its military capability. But this had proved difficult due to a lack of suppliers and a veto on the sale of arms from the USA. Britain having a debt for the food supplied by Argentina during the war and despite objections from Washington, took advantage and signed a contract worth more than £20 million for the supply of modern military aircraft. This included:
All of which started arriving with the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAéA), the Argentine Air Force, from 1946.
The Bristol 170’s and the Airspeed Consuls were the first arrivals starting in 1946. Poor handling qualities of the Bristol 170s in the weather conditions of some of the southern Argentinian territories restricted their use but several examples were operated right up to 1966. Delivery of the Vikings started in mid-1946, the Doves in 1947, and the Prentices in 1949.
FAéA Airspeed Oxford
FAéA Bristol 170’s flying in formation
FAÉA Vickers Viking 1B
FAÉA De Havilland 104 Dove
FAÉA Percival Prentice T.1
With the addition of the Gloster Meteor jet fighters, which were known in Argentina as Glosters rather than Meteors, the FAÉA became the first air force in Latin America to operate the latest jet-propelled aircraft. With the Lancasters and Lincolns it became one of the most powerful and advanced forces in the region. After WW2 many German exiles settled in Argentina and the FAÉA profited from the expertise of former Luftwaffe and German aircraft industry technicians to develop many of its own significant indigenous designed and built aircraft.
FAÉA Gloster Meteor Mk.IV’s at BAN Comandante Espora
Meteor Mk.IVs were ordered and in May 1947 12 Argentine pilots arrived in the UK at Gloster’s Moreton Valence airfield for jet familiarization training. The first 50 Meteors were ex-RAF aircraft and registered to the FAÉA as I-001 to I-050, the remainder were brand new aircraft registered I-051 to I-100. They were crated up and shipped to Buenos Aires where they were partly assembled before being transported to the nearby BAM (Base Aérea Militar ) El Palomar airbase for final assembly. The first FAÉA Meteor unit was Regimiento 4 de Caza Interceptora (4th Fighter-Interceptor Regiment) and was formed at BAM Tandil on 3 December 1947. Argentina became the first overseas operator of the Gloster Meteor.
Argentine cities and airfields mentioned in the text
The Lancasters and Lincolns were acquired by the FAÉA to replace obsolete American suppled twin-engined Martin 139s (B-10). All the Lancasters and 12 of the Lincolns were war-surplus and had previously been delivered to the RAF and assigned to No.10 Maintenance Unit (MU) at RAF Hullavington where they had been in storage for two years and never used. They were re-purchased by Avro for sale to Argentina and after some maintenance which included replacing tyres which had become oval after being parked for so long were transferred to Avro’s Repair and Maintenance facility at RAF Langar in Nottinghamshire.
FAÉA Avro Lancaster Mk.I
Whilst being serviced at Langar some of the specialised RAF equipment such as the H2S and Gee radars were removed and much of the armament had to be re-installed as the aircraft had been cannibalized for spare parts whilst in storage. The engines of the ex-RAF Lincolns were also replaced and upgraded from Rolls-Royce Merlin 68As to Merlin 621-15s which were also fitted to all the 18 new built Lincolns manufactured by Armstrong Whitworth.
FAÉA Avro Lincolns Mk.II at RAF Langar awaiting delivery
Lancasters and Lincolns were only ever single pilot operated in RAF service and as they were Argentina’s first four-engine aircraft several of both types were fitted with dual controls to aid pilot training. Many Argentine pilots and technical staff visited the Avro facilities in England but the first of the four-engined bombers to be ready was former RAF Lincoln RE343 which was officially handed over to the FAÉA as B-001 at Langar 17 September 1947. It was then flown to Buenos Aires by a former RAF crew together with Argentinian pilot Capitán Gustavo Argentino Marambio and arrived two days later.
FAÉA Avro Lincolns Mk.II at RAF Langar awaiting delivery with Argentine ground crew
On 21 September Lincoln B-001 was flown low-level over the centre of Buenos Aires which included a pass over the Government House in Plaza de Mayo. After it landed it was dis-assembled, though not without difficulty by the inexperienced Argentine engineers, and slowly transported, re-assembled, and showcased on the historic Avenida 9 de Julio as the main attraction at the 1947 Exposición Aeronáutica (Aviation Exhibition), together with many FAÉA aircraft types including most of those supplied from the UK. The last of the Lincolns arrived in November 1948.
FAÉA Avro Lincoln Mk.II on Avenida 9 de Julio – 1947 Exposición Aeronáutica
1947 Exposición Aeronáutica
(From the front left) Gloster Meteor, Vickers Viking, Gloster Meteor,
De Havilland Dove, Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan,
two Fiat G.55 Centauros, and a Bristol 170 Freighter
Perón had become president of Argentina in June 1946. His part in the story of Argentina is both fascinating and complicated. Even though he with his wife Evita were initially very popular, particularly with the working classes, as early as September 1951 he had used two Avro Lincolns to bomb BAN (Base Aeronaval – Naval Air Base) Punta Indio where Navy forces were staging a revolt against his leadership. Following the early death of Evita in 1952 from cancer, he became more dictatorial and by the mid 1950s he had lost the support of a large part of the military who, together with senior members of the church and other political machinators, conspired his overthrow.
Catholic bishops in Buenos Aires spoke out against Perón and his regime after which a procession turned into a fierce anti-government demonstration. Two days later on the 16 June Perón’s government organised a day of official public demonstrations against their detractors. A large crowd had gathered in support of Perón at Plaza de Mayo in the city centre.
In what turned out to be a failed coup d’état rebel military factions organised a series of armed assaults on government and military establishments. At 12:40 a force of 34 rebel aircraft consisting of 22 North American AT-6 Texans, five Beechcraft AT-11s, three Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats of the Argentine Navy from BAN Punta Indio, and four FAÉA Meteors attacked Buenos Aires around the official seat of government at Casa Rosada including bombing and strafing the Plaza de Mayo.
Almost 10 tonnes of bombs were dropped which killed more than 350 people of whom most were civilians, and a further 800 were injured. Three of the attacking aircraft were shot down by anti-aircraft fire and forces loyal to Perón ordered the airbase BAM Morón near Buenos Aires to intercept the rebel aircraft. It seems that the pilots had a heated discussion as to whether to join the coup or not, but initially four of the Meteors were scrambled joined later by several more some of which were coup sympathisers. The loyalist pilots patrolled overhead Buenos Aires, the weather conditions were poor, and visibility was limited but loyalist FAÉA Meteor pilot Teniente J. Adradas in Meteor I-063 shot down one of the AT-6 Texans over the Río de la Plata (River Plate) flown by rebel Guardiamarina Arnaldo Román, who parachuted to safety. It was the first ever air-to-air combat for the FAÉA.
BAM Morón soon fell into rebel hands and the loyalist pilots were aprehended upon landing. Their Meteors were seized and pressed into joining the attack at Casa Rosada by rebel forces. Both loyalist and rebel flown Meteors continued operations during the day but there was no incident of any Meteor engaging another Meteor in aerial combat. The uprising failed and was over by about 17:30. BAM Morón was returned to government control but not before the rebel pilots who had participated received orders to fly to Uruguay and request asylum. Most did but many ran out of fuel on the way.
The June uprising was over, but the anti-government sentiment had not gone away. Much of the FAÉA had mixed loyalties, which led to conflict even within crews. As a precaution against the possibility of a further rebel military uprising bomb fuses, machine gun mechanisms, and aircraft guns were stored in special warehouses guarded by loyalist forces, and Perón ordered all the Lincolns in service to be transferred to BAM Morón.
Friday 16 September 1955
A state of unease existed until a new uprising began on 16 September that year, the so-called Liberation Revolution or more correctly the Revolución Libertadora. It was much bigger and commanded much more popular support. Most of the Meteors were under the control of forces loyal to Perón’s government but at Córdoba, in north-central Argentina, the Escuela de Aviaçión Militar (EAM – the Military Aviation School) and the nearby Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA – Military Aircraft Factory) were in rebel hands. The FMA had three Meteors (serial numbers I-043, I-061, and I-079 ) which were being repaireds but they had no weapons or gun sights.
Rebel Meteor I-043 with hand-painted symbols in red including ‘MR’ for Movimiento Revoluciónario (Revolutionary Movement) and the letter ‘V’ with a cross above it which denoted Cristo vence (Christ wins) indicating their support for the Catholic church which opposed Perón. Loyalist Meteors had a ‘V’ with a ‘P’ for Perón
Just after dawn the three Meteors together with several Percival Prentices, twin engine Beechcraft AT-11s, and indigenous Argentine I.Ae. 22 DL advanced trainers flew low over loyalist troops of the nearby Army Infantry School who were attacking the rebel occupied Army Artillery School. None of the aircraft had any weapons and it was seen as a show of strength to intimidate the loyalist forces.
At 09:00 following an earlier reconnaissance flight four loyalist Meteors took off from BAM Morón to attack two old rebel controlled Argentine Navy destroyers that were blockading the River Plate. The ships the ARA (Armada de la República Argentina – Argentine Navy) Cervantes and the ARA La Rioja were by then training vessels and lightly armed.
The four Meteors dived towards the ARA La Rioja firing from their nose canons. The La Rioja returned fire with little effect and the Cervantes moved closer to help the La Rioja. Soon after a further three loyalist Meteors joined the attack scoring significant hits before returning to BAM Morón without sustaining any damage to themselves.
Two rebel held landing ships which were crossing from Escuela de Marinería (Maritime College) on the Martín García Island (where German sailors from German heavy cruiser Graf Spee had been interned during WW2) to reinforce the rebel Escuela Naval Militar (ENM – Military Naval School) at Río Santiago near the city of La Plata. The ships were attacked by a further four Meteors and five IAé-24 Calquin twin-engined ground-attack aircraft whilst several Lincolns attacked the Naval School at Río Santiago. A further rebel support ship was dispatched from Río Santiago. All three ships were lightly armed and they received substantial damage with the loss of several lives. Repeated loyalist attacks throughout the day continued to target the rebel ships but with little further success.
Back at Córdoba the rebel Meteors had been hastily equipped with canons and flew strike missions against the loyalists throughout the day.
At 10:00 two loyalist Lincolns took off from BAM Morón with orders to bomb rebels at the Army Artillery School in Córdoba. However, they immediately joined the rebel cause. It’s believed they first attempted to divert to BAN Comandante Espora near (Bahía Blanca) but couldn’t decide whether it was rebel or loyalist controlled, so continued and landed at the Military Aviation School at Córdoba. The deserting aircraft were colloquially known as Pancakes as they ‘flipped sides in the air’.
FAÉA Avro Lincoln Mk.IIs flying in formation
A further three loyalist Lincolns departed BAM Morón at 17:00. Their target was again the Naval School at Río Santiago but they immediately flew north-west towards Córdoba. Senior loyalist commanders attempted to dissuade the three crews from deserting informing them that the rebellion had failed and ordering them return to base. The request went unheeded, they flew on to the Military Aviation School at Córdoba and landed at 20:00 making a total of five Lincolns in the hands of the rebels.
Saturday 17 September 1955
The following morning, Saturday 17 September, one of the five rebel-controlled Lincolns took to the air from EAM Córdoba on a reconnaissance mission and was damaged by loyalist army anti-aircraft fire. Another departed tasked with bombing BAM Morón. The weather had deteriorated by the time it approached Buenos Aires and the mission had to be aborted with the Lincoln diverting to BAN Comandante Espora. Another rebel Lincoln took off shortly after and bombed loyalist army units stationed at the nearby Ferreyra aeroclub but not without sustaining some damage. A further Lincoln also took off to bomb further loyalist army units who were advancing towards the town of Alta Gracia just a few kilometres to the southwest of Córdoba.
During the morning a sixth Lincoln crew with their aircraft deserted to join the rebel cause and another Lincoln departed EAM to bomb Las Higueras airport in Río Cuarto, south of Córdoba where additional supplies of fuel and ammunition had been delivered to bolster loyalist forces. At the time of the attack loyalist FAÉA Meteors and a Lancaster bomber were being prepared for an attack on the rebel held airfields at Córdoba. A single loyalist Meteor was scrambled but it did not intercept the bomber as the Meteor pilot was reportedly sympathetic to the rebel cause.
The Lincoln bombing succeeded in totally destroying Lancaster B.I B-037 (formally RAF PA344). This particular Lancaster had been modified along with B-036 (PA315) to carry the PAT-1 (Proyectil Argentino Teledirigido) air launched missile. B-036 had been lost after a training exercise off the coast near Quilmes on 20 October 1953, but B-037 was used in late November 1954 to successfully launch a PAT-1 missile. It was the launch of Latin America’s first ever air-to-surface missile and is depicted in Argentine artist Alberto Nassivera’s painting ‘El Ultimo Misil’ – The Last Missile’.
Alberto Nassivera’s painting ‘El Ultimo Misil’
It’s believed that Lancaster B-037 had been deployed to Las Higueras airport in order to use its PAT-1 missile against Rebel forces at Córdoba.
FAÉA Avro Lancaster Mk.I (B-037) with PAT-1 missile installed
The three rebel Lincolns that had departed EAM and completed their missions landed back at Pajas Blancas airport just to the north of Córdoba to refuel. Meanwhile, preparations for the loyalist attack on Córdoba were stepped up. Three Meteors at Las Higueras airport were fully armed and refuelled. Piloted by Mayor Catalá, Mayor Aubone, and Capitán Domínguez they took off shortly after 17:00 and headed north. They flew at low level at around 435mph (700km/h) to the west of Córdoba through the Calamuchita Valley then through the Punilla Valley, over Lake San Roque to a position north of Pajas Blancas airport where they banked round to the south and commenced their attack in a line-astern formation from north-to-south.
Flying at high speed they strafed the airfield using their nose canons. All three Lincolns were hit and damaged but Lincoln B-028 which was still being refuelled was completely destroyed with the loss of all its crew. There is some speculation however, that some of the casualties of B-028 may have been killed in an internal fight during a confrontation between those with rebel and loyalist sympathies as the rescue team that attended the aircraft discovered spent bullet cartridges from the pilot commanders personal hand pistol.
The three Meteor pilots had been trained by the famous WW2 German fighter ace Adolf Galland who was a flying instructor and lecturer at the FAÉA. His teaching clearly stated that when attacking in line-astern there should be a minimum separation of 1000m between each aircraft to avoid firing on the aircraft in front. As the three Meteors sped across Pajas Blancas airport firing that lesson clearly had not been completely observed. Mayor Catalá led the attack followed by Mayor Aubone, but Capitán Domínguez in third position was too close and the fire from his canons damaged the tailplane of Aubone’s Meteor. Fortunately, the damage was not catastrophic, and all three Meteors climbed away from the airfield and in an act of defiance flew low level over the city centre of rebel held Córdoba before landing back at Las Higueras. (The action over Pajas Blancas airport has been captured in another painting by prolific painter Alberto Nassivera’s and is entitled ‘Ignorando A Galland’ – Ignoring Galland).
Alberto Nassivera’s painting ‘Ignorando A Galland’
The attack on Pajas Blancas airport had been considered such a success that a further attack was ordered immediately. However, before the Meteors could be repaired, re-fuelled, and re-armed a significant column of rebel troops was spotted heading towards Río Cuarto, and so Las Higueras airfield was evacuated. The Meteor pilots escaped in a 12-seat Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan, but it was intercepted by a rebel flown IAé-24 Calquin and forced to land with little damage. At about the same time that evening loyalist anti-aircraft artillery units approached Córdoba from the east. Two of the rebel Meteors from the FMA in Córdoba were scrambled to attack and halt the advance during which both aircraft were slightly damaged before returning to base.
Had the rebel Lincolns not been damaged at Pajas Blancas airport it is believed they would have been used to bomb the loyalist airfield at BAM Coronel Pringles near the town of Villa Reynolds about 300km southwest of Córdoba. Despite the loss of Las Higueras airfield with its Meteors a further loyalist attack was planned.
Sunday 18 September 1955
During the morning of 18 September two loyalist Lincolns took off from BAM Morón to bomb the rebel held airfields around Córdoba. As the loyalist Lincolns approached Córdoba, a rebel Meteor piloted by Primer Teniente Weber was scrambled from FMA to intercept the bombers. It attacked the Lincolns as they began their bombing run at FMA but without scoring any direct hit. Surprised by the presence of the Meteor the two Lincolns separated. Weber broke off to follow one of the Lincolns and positioned himself below and behind to start his attack. As he approached his nose cannon jammed which forced him to return to the airfield. Meanwhile the other Lincoln had started bombing the airfield. Rebel Meteor pilot Primer Teniente Balado managed to avoid the explosions and get airborne. However, after making several close passes and threatening to fire rather than attacking the loyalist Lincolns he attempted to convince the bomber crews to join the revolution. The attempt was in vain, but the Lincoln crews had been suitably deterred. They broke off from their mission and returned to BAM Morón.
Monday 19 September 1955
The following morning a loyalist offensive on Córdoba began from the northeast which was successful in capturing Córdoba’s northern train station. Some of the rebel Meteors had hastily been modified to carry two napalm tanks (from the Calquin ground-attack aircraft) on their underwing stores pylons and were used together with Calquins in a counterattack. Despite intense anti-aircraft fire, the Calquins and Meteors managed to hit their targets, the Meteors even jettisoning their ventral fuel tanks as an additional weapon. But the nose canons of the Meteors were a continual problem, often jamming: one of the Meteors had even been fitted with two 20mm cannon salvaged from the dorsal turret of one of the Lincolns. The rebel counterattack was not completely successful, but it did slow the loyalist advance towards Córdoba and give the rebels more time to regroup and move the remaining flyable Lincolns away from Córdoba.
By the end of the day Perón had realised that Argentina was on the brink of a civil war. He established a military government to negotiate with the rebels which resulted in a halt to the fighting and gave both sides time to reorganise their forces. However, the rebels identified a significant movement of Perónist troops to the south-west of Córdoba which they considered to be in violation of the ceasefire agreement. A rebel pre-emptive strike was arranged but by that time the jet fuel (Avtur) used for the Meteors had all been used so normal aviation fuel (Avgas) was used instead. Though the Meteor manuals indicated that Avtur could be used for short periods, it also stated that its use should be avoided for combat missions.
Primer Teniente Weber took off and made several successful passes over the advancing loyalist troops. On his return to base a second Meteor I-079 piloted by Teniente Morandini took off and also attacked the loyalist advance. However, on his return to base one of the Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojet engines of his Meteor failed which caused the aircraft to stall and crash killing Morandini. He was the only Meteor pilot to lose his life during the Revolución Libertadora.
By the 21st of September all fighting had finished, the rebels declared victory, and Perón resigned and fled to Paraguay. In a victory parade the following day the rebel Meteors which had taken part in the Revolución Libertadora together with Calquins, Lincolns, IAé-DL22s, Prentices, and even the IAé-33 Pulqui II prototype jet fighter flew over Córdoba.
So, in summary: ‘The day a Lincoln bombed a Lancaster, and a Meteor shot a Meteor shooting a Lincoln’:
Argentina Saturday 17 September 1955
- During the morning Argentine rebel Avro Lincoln B.II bombed Las Higueras airport destroying loyalist Avro Lancaster B.I (B-037).
- Later that day three loyalist Gloster Meteors Mk.IVs departed Las Higueras airport and attacked the rebel Avro Lincolns being refuelled at Pajas Blancas airfield destroying Lincoln (B-028). During the attack loyalist Meteor (I-087) which was flying second in line was damaged by friendly fire from the third Meteor flying too close behind it.
List all aircraft supplied by UK to Argentina
It’s fantastic for me with such a love of iconic/historic British aircraft that so many are preserved in Argentina, particularly those examples which are rare in the UK such as the Avro Lincoln, Bristol 170, and the Vickers Viking. It’s a shame that there is no example of a Lancaster preserved there, however……
most of us, if not all of us, will have seen at least a little bit of one of the Lancasters operated by Fuerza Aérea Argentina……..
A Frazer-Nash FN-50 mid-upper turret from B-038 (formally RAF PA369) was recovered from Argentina in 1975 and installed in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster PA474.
British built Aircraft Preserved at Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica (BAM Morón) – Buenos Aires
Avro Lincoln B.II – B-004 (on display as B-010)
BAC Canberra MK.62
De Havilland 104 Dove
Gloster Meteor Mk.IV
Percival Prentice T.1
Vickers Viking 1B
Many thanks to Alberto Nassivera for the use of images of some of his paintings, Dan Ellin at the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive (https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/), and Skydive Langar for the use of their images of Lincolns at RAF Langar. Neil Mullineux for proof reading and also, thanks to the web sites listed below from who I have requested the use of some of the images used in this blog.