Of far greater consequence was the use of a truck loaded with explosives to carry out a suicide attack on the US Marine HQ at Beirut Airport on 23 October. This cost 241 American lives while a simultaneous attack on the French barracks killed fifty-eight paratroops. RAF Chinook and Wessex helicopters, which were also assigned to Op PULSATOR, played a crucial role in ferrying some of the more seriously wounded from Beirut to the Military Hospital at Akrotiri. A few weeks later, in December, Druze militia used state-of-the-art SAMs to shoot down two US Navy aircraft over the Chouf Mountains. The Americans responded by launching a large package, containing defensive aircraft and twenty-six bombers, sixteen from the USS Independence and ten from the John F Kennedy, against ground targets in the Lebanon. The attack aircraft delivered unguided Rockeye cluster bombs from 40-degree dive attacks at 520 knots.

The results of those attacks are not known but the choice of weapons and the attack profiles flown were clearly of interest to the Buccaneer Detachment whose standby requirements had, by this time, been further relaxed to just two crews at four hour’s readiness. Had any attack sorties been required at this stage it was clear that, the deteriorating weather aside, the recently demonstrated presence of more sophisticated SAMs in the area meant they would have had to be flown entirely at low level.

The readiness state was increased temporarily on 11 January when BRITFORLEB’s block of flats was hit by tank fire. However, the tension was greatly eased when the local Druze Militia Commander immediately drove out and apologised in person to COMBRITFORLEB for the ‘stray’ shell!

After the cease-fire had been sustained for several days, the Rules of Engagement were amended as follows:

ROE 1* Show of Strength. Remains in Force but no longer deemed likely.

ROE 2* Reaction to Attack (Bombardment). Not in force – inappropriate during cease-fire.

ROE 3 Immediate Defence. In force but needs Ministerial approval.

ROE 4* Reaction to Attack on Multinational Force. Not in force – inappropriate during cease-fire.

The new rules, along with the reduced standby commitment, meant that the detachment now had sufficient spare capacity to be able to introduce a local flying programme and, since they were in the Mediterranean, the opportunity was taken to mount several training missions employing maritime attack procedures against the large numbers of naval vessels that were concentrated in the vicinity. A number of real reconnaissance sorties were also flown against the Kirov, a relatively recent addition to the Soviet fleet. The detachment was also able to carry out airfield attacks against Akrotiri, practice-bombing at Episkopi and fighter affiliation exercises with the Pantoms.


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