In April 1982, a British armada, including two aircraft carriers, sailed south to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. In response, the Argentine Air Force launched a fierce campaign to stop them.

The deadly combination of the Super Etendard aircraft and the Exocet anti-ship missile made Argentine pilots extremely dangerous. If they managed to sink either of the two British aircraft carriers, the British fleet would lose its air superiority and would have to retreat.

The British knew there were five Exocet missiles stored at Argentina’s Rio Grande air base, 400 miles west of the Falklands in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina’s southernmost province and one of the world’s most remote regions.

British commanders turned to their special operations forces and the Special Air Service (SAS) to deal with the threat.

Operation Mikado: A Daring Raid

British troops soldiers Argentina Falklands War prisoners
British soldiers surrendering to Argentine soldiers during the Falklands War, April 1982. (Rafael Wollman/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Argentine forces using air-launched Exocet missiles were able to sink several British ships as the fleet made its way south, which drove calls for action in London.

The SAS commander, Col. Peter de la Billière — who later became a general and was the deputy commander of all coalition forces during the Gulf War — pressed for a commando raid to take out the Argentine aircraft.

The SAS had recently conducted a superb hostage rescue at the Iranian Embassy in London, which was filmed on live television, and were cashing in their political clout.

The SAS proposed Operation Mikado: a dashing raid on Rio Grande. Roughly 70 SAS operators from the unit’s B Squadron would land at the base in two specially configured C-130 transport aircraft, deploy on motorcycles and gun trucks, and then storm the base’s buildings and aircraft hangars.