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This essay examines the British use of sea-based aviation in support of two modern amphibious campaigns: the British campaign in Norway in 1940 and in the Falkland Islands War in 1982. The purpose is to determine whether or not aircraft carriers (sea-based aviation) were at the root of the success or failure of British efforts.
In April 1940, there were no airfields in central Norway capable of supporting modern, high performance aircraft. As the Norwegian campaign unfolded and the British faced a significant land-based air threat from the Luftwaffe, they failed to appreciate the tactical and operational potential of sea-based aviation. At the same time, British naval aircraft were technically inferior in design and capability compared to their Luftwaffe land-based counterparts in 1940. Nevertheless, despite determined attacks on British naval assets at the tactical level, at the operational level, the German command limited their campaign goals and did not exploit their advantage in the air to the extent possible. Their actions did, however, place great pressure on British sea based lines of communication in central Norway, the operational pivot of the campaign.
In 1982, against the Argentines, the British faced another opponent with superior land-based aviation. Although the British fully appreciated the need for air superiority, they employed a tactical scheme not unlike what had occurred in Norway. Nevertheless, the British were able to successfully contest the airspace above the Falklands and ultimately succeeded in defeating Argentine ground forces and ejecting them from the islands.