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RAF chief plays homage to Argentine Air Force war dead

Tuesday, December 10th 2002 - 20:00 UTC
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Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Peter Squire this morning laid a wreath at the monument to Argentina aircrews killed during the 1982 Falklands War.

Squire - a Falklands War veteran in his own right who in 1982 commanded the RAF 1 Fighter Squadron flying numerous missions against Argentine grounds targets - was flanked by two former adversaries, Argentine Air Force Chief of Staff, Brigadier Walter Barbero, who flew reconnaissance flights and the Air Force's Head of Planning, Brigadier Horacio Mir Gonzalez, a highly decorated Dagger pilot during the war.

Squire laid a wreath of red and white carnations at the black marble memorial - with the names of the 55 Air Force officers, NCOs and conscripts killed during the 1982 conflict - which stands outside the Air Force Condor building in downtown Buenos Aires.

The brief ceremony, which included a full Argentine Air Force guard of honour and bugler who sounded The Last Post, was extremely poignant, as the former foes of 1982 came together to pay homage to the fallen at the Air Force's Malvinas memorial which stands alongside another reminder of the close relationship of both air force's over the year's: a British-made Gloster Meteor turbojet used by the Argentine Air Force in the 1950's which is now exhibited on a pedestal outside the Air Force headquarters.

Speaking at a later press conference both Squire and Barbero agreed that the ceremony marked a new highlight in the ever improving relationships between both countries and explained that over the three day visit, discussions will take place to look into further ways of improving links particularly in training and inter-operability. Sitting before a painting by Exequiel Martinez depicting the joint Air Force - Naval Aviation attack on HMS Invincible on 30 May 1982, Squire and Barbero announced that they would be analysing the possibility of carrying out a joint Search & Rescue exercises in the South Atlantic region sometime next year.

Both men remembered their own experiences during the war, in particular one incident in which Squire was vectored to intercept a Boeing 707 carrying out long-range reconnaissance flight. Squire explained that he had been unable to locate Barbero's aircraft and shook hands with his former adversary saying, "How delighted I am to be able to meet you here today".

At the end of the 1982 war Squire was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his work as commanding officer of the RAF's First Fighter Squadron embarked on HMS Hermes, from where he led his squadron in attacks on Argentine ground targets at Stanley Airport, Mount Tumbledown and Fox Bay, as well as attacks on several landing strips being used by the Argentine forces. In one such attack a bomb dropped by Squire's flight missed the targeted runway hitting a shed. A piece of shrapnel from the subsequent explosion hit islander Tim Miller in the eye. After the war both men became close friends.

In turn Barbero flew numerous reconnaissance missions in an Air Force Boeing 707 tracking the Task Force as it sailed from Ascension Island. On one occasion he was fired at by Royal Navy vessels and was lucky to escape by flying at sea level thus narrowly avoiding five Sea Dart surface to air missiles homing in on his aircraft. Squire also highlighted the contribution made by the four RAF servicemen who last week cycled from Chile to Argentina to collect funds for the Argentine war memorial to be built at Darwin Cemetery.

Tomorrow Tuesday the Air Chief Marshal is scheduled to fly to Tandil Air Base, home of the Argentine Air Force's VI Air Brigade, where he will fly a Mirage III DA tandem two-seat trainer of the First Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

Nicholas Tozer - Buenos Aires

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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