Saturday 14 April 2012

The Falklands Task Force At Ascension.

The island of Ascension, situated in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, was occupied by the British in 1815 when they decided to exile the French dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, whom they had defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, to the island of St. Helena. From 1816 it served as a Royal Navy establishment and on 20 October 1922 was made a dependency of St. Helena, the use of British stamps on the island being discontinued in December 1922 with the first stamps of Ascension, overprinted contemporary stamps of St. Helena, being issued on 2 November 1922. In 1982 the island played a significant role in the British campaign to liberate The Falklands when they had been occupied by Argentine armed forces.
With the British fleet sailing south from Britain, the Royal Air Force set up a base on Ascension by mid-April. The base was co-located with the airfield called Wideawake which already existed on Ascension. The 40th anniversary of the airport was commemorated on 15 June 1982 by a set of 4 stamps and a 60p booklet which contained 2 panes, one of 4 x 5p value and a 4 x 10p pane. The booklet, 5p and 15p values are illustrated, additionally (as well as the 10p) there was a 50p value which featured a Lockheed Hercules aircraft.
There was a sizeable force of Avro Vulcan B M2 bombers. One such aircraft was depicted on one of four stamps issued on 1 August 1983 to commemorate the bicentenary of manned flight.
Other aircraft were depicted on the 4 stamps released on 12 June 1992 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the liberation of The Falkland Islands. The 18p depicted a VC10 landing at Wideawake and the 25p showed a Wessex HU Mark 5 helicopter (see below). All 4 values were combined in a miniature sheet; the 15p value depicted a Nimrod Mark 2 aircraft and a Vulcan B2 appeared on the 65p.
Detailed plans for the retaking of The Falkland Islands were set out at a meeting of senior British commanders at Ascension which was held on 17 April and on the same day, the main task force sailed south from Ascension for The Falklands. A set of four stamps issued on the 14 June 2002 commemorated the 20th anniversary of the liberation and featured one of the two aircraft carriers in the task force, HMS Hermes, on the 40p value and another Vulcan bomber on the 50p. The other values (15p and 35p) depicted troops in action.
Ascension also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the liberation on 25 May 2007 with a set 4 stamps and 2 miniature sheets. One of the sheets which showed the geographical location of Ascension in the Atlantic Ocean drew attention to the island's role as an airbase:- "In 1982 flights through Ascension increased from 20 or so a month to 1573 arrivals in a single week. The "Black Buck 1" raid alone involved over 20 aircraft". The second miniature sheet depicted one of the aircraft carriers off Ascension Island. Various aircraft and ships of the Task Force were shown on the stamps in the miniature sheets but not all the stamps included in the miniature sheets were also issued in ordinary sheets.
The individual stamps depicted various aircraft and ships of the Task Force:- 35p: Hanley Page Victor Mark 2 Tanker aircraft, 40p: HMS Dumbarton Castle (at top of blog), 50p: HMS Fearless and £1.25: Vulcan XM1607 aircraft taking off from Wideawake.
Thus Ascension Island has already issued a large number of stamps which record the island's role in the conflict of 1982 and, doubtless, in this 30th anniversary year, we shall see more stamps being issued by the island which will again commemorate Ascension's role in freeing the Falkland Islanders.

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