Thursday, 31 August 2017

Radio Atlantico del Sur – Profile and Timeline

This post was amended on 8 September 2017 to correct footnote 1 on local time in the Falklands.

Updated on 22 October 2017 on the identities of the officers in charge of the MoD's Special Projects Group. See the entry for 7 April under the subheading "Timeline of Project Moonshine".

Updated on 19 November 2017 to note that the location of Radio Atlantico del Sur's studios has now been publicly identified.

Updated on 28 December 2017 to add entries to the section "Timeline of Project MOONSHINE".

Updated on 31 August 2018 to add a link under the entry "Argentine counter-measures". 

Disclaimer: I was employed by the BBC at the time of the 1982 war, and continue to be so. However, this is an entirely personal blog post, reflecting only my views.

About this blog post: This is the second of several posts on Radio Atlantico del Sur, the Spanish-language shortwave station operated by the British Ministry of Defence in the final four weeks of the April-June 1982 Falklands War.

Please see the acknowledgements at the start of the first post.

Dates and times: Unless otherwise indicated, all dates referred to below were in 1982. References to "morning" and "evening" refer to Falklands local time. [1]

Facts and sources

In future posts I'll be fairly ruthless in querying unsourced claims and myths about Radio Atlantico del Sur.

So I'm using this post to set out a base of facts.

Along with press reports and other notes I took at the time, my three key sources for what follows in this particular post are:

1. "Report on Psy Ops in OP CORPORATE": This is a key official document, written shortly after the 1982 war as an overall retrospective. (Operation CORPORATE was the MoD codename for the entire South Atlantic Campaign.)

This substantial document and its seven annexes give a businesslike account of RAdS's operations (known within the MoD as Project MOONSHINE), including details of its staff, the guidelines they worked under, and even an outline of their office's daily work schedule. There is also an attempt at setting out "lessons learnt", with recommendations for future British military psychological operations.

However, the document is thin on some logistical and technical aspects.

The document was released by the Ministry of Defence to the British National Archives in June 2017. The text of the document and the annexes can be read at Lee Richards' psywar.org website.

2. "The Pol Pot Conspiracy" (published 2015): This is the title of the memoirs of Neil ffrench-Blake, Radio Atlantico del Sur's civilian manager. See my first post for further discussion of this invaluable first-hand account of RAdS's operations.

3. "The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Volume 2: War and Diplomacy" by Lawrence Freedman (published 2005). This has a short section on Project MOONSHINE and a separate section on broader "deception and psychological operations" in the war. These provide a useful overview of the military background to the decision to launch RAdS and describe the political and bureaucratic opposition that it faced in Britain.

However, the Official History says almost nothing about the content of the broadcasts themselves. It draws heavily on the "Report on Psy Ops in OP CORPORATE" document described above, but adds no further operational details.

Radio Atlantico del Sur  Profile of a psychological operation

Summary: A Spanish-language shortwave radio station operated by the British Ministry of Defence in the final four weeks of the April-June 1982 Falklands War to support the operations of British forces.

Target audience: Argentine military personnel in the Falkland Islands.

Objectives: To persuade Argentine troops to "hesitate before firing on British troops" and to "consider positively the benefits of surrendering". See my first post on this blog for a further discussion of RAdS's objectives.

MoD codename: Project MOONSHINE. [2]

Logistics of operation: All broadcasts went out live from a studio in central London. The exact location is still not publicly known. (I'll look at this point in a future post.)

Updated on 19 November 2017: Recently released MoD and FCO files confirm that RAdS broadcast from the studios of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) in Kings Buildings, Smith Square, Westminister. See my post The Secret is Revealed: Radio Atlantico del Sur's studio.

Means of transmission: The broadcasts were aired from a 250-kilowatt transmitter at the BBC Atlantic Relay Station on Ascension Island. The frequencies were 9710 kilohertz for the evening broadcast and 9700 kHz for the morning one, both in the 31-metre shortwave band. [3]

Staffing: A group of at least 30 civilian and military personnel using the cover name of the Media Assessment Team.

The staff included a civilian station manager (Neil ffrench-Blake), nine presenters (all but one being members of the British armed forces), five translators/writers, three Spanish-speaking typists, two civilian journalists, a civilian radio engineer, two RAF technicians, three junior NCOs from the British Army's Intelligence Corps and five administrative staff.

Cost: After the war, the total cost of the project was said to have been about £40,000 (equivalent to around £140,000 in 2017 prices). Before broadcasts started, costs had been estimated at up to £20,000 per week.

Hours of transmission: Throughout its short life, RAdS transmitted a three-hour evening broadcast at 8 p.m. Falklands time (equivalent to 2300 GMT or midnight London time).

From 28 May, an additional one-hour early morning broadcast was aired at 5.30 a.m. Falklands time (0830 GMT or 0930 London time). [4]

Total number of broadcasts: 47. These were made up of 28 evening broadcasts (19 May to 15 June) and 19 morning broadcasts (28 May to 15 June).

Argentine counter-measures: These included:
  • RAdS's signal was jammed (though this might have been ineffective in the target area)
  • The Argentine military chaplain in the Falklands warned troops that listening to RAdS was a mortal sin (thus possibly increasingly its allure by giving it forbidden-fruit status)
  • Radio sets were confiscated from Falkland Islanders, reportedly to prevent them from being used by Argentine conscripts to listen to RAdS
  • A privately-owned Buenos Aires-based news agency, Noticias Argentinas, was closed by the authorities for 72 hours in early June after it cited the list of Argentine wounded and captured that was broadcast nightly by RAdS (Updated on 31 August 2018: see my post General Galtieri's mystery decree)

Timeline of Project MOONSHINE

2 April 1982: Argentina invades the Falklands. 

The MoD's Special Projects Group (SPG) is subsequently tasked by the Chiefs of Staff with developing ideas for deception and psychological operations.

7 April: Two officers (Lieutenant-Colonel B. and Squadron-Leader G.) of the Psychological Operations Section of the Joint Warfare Wing (JWW), National Defence College (based at Latimer in Buckinghamshire), join the SPG. 

In his memoirs, Neil ffrench-Blake mentions, but doesn't name, the two officers noted above. He says one was a "jolly, bluff army colonel with a very no-nonsense sort of approach", while the other was "a rather weaselly squadron leader from the RAF who was a bit prone to panic, but had a pretty sharp mind". 

ffrench-Blake also says the SPG was under the overall control of "a sensible army brigadier called Jock Bradall", though elsewhere in the memoirs Bradall has become only a colonel. In any case, "Bradall" may well be a pseudonym.

Update on 22 October 2017: That is indeed the case. In the MoD files on Operation MOONSHINE there are numerous references to the military officers in the SPG, giving their names.There is no mention of a Jock Bradall  whether a brigadier or a colonel. Instead, the SPG was headed during most of the Falklands War by Colonel S.. In early June 1982 he handed over leadership of the SPG to Colonel L.. I assume that S. is ffrench-Blake's "Jock Bradall".

28 April: The SPG submits a case (SPG 020) to set up Radio Atlantico del Sur, under the codeword MOONSHINE.

From 28 April: Personnel are recruited, under the cover name Media Assessment Team (MAT).

2 May: The British War Cabinet (known formally as OD(SA) – Overseas and Defence Committee, South Atlantic) asks the Foreign Office to investigate what needs to be done to step up broadcasts to Argentina and the Falklands.

3 May: The SPG revises its 28 April proposal to take account of FCO objections. The text of the revised proposal, known as Special Projects Group - Paper No 6, is contained in my post "The codeword for this operation is MOONSHINE".

Shortly after 12 May: Paper on Project MOONSHINE submitted to OD(SA). (The "Report on Psy Ops in OP CORPORATE" notes that the station was already able to go on air by this date, and regrets the delay in launching it, which it says was caused by "suspicion and doubt in Whitehall".) The text of a draft of the proposal for the OD(SA) is contained in my post "The War Cabinet is invited to agree"

18 May: OD(SA) approves Project MOONSHINE.

Morning of 19 May: British government announces that, using its powers under Article 19 of the BBC's Licence and Agreement, it is requisitioning the use of one of the four 250-kilowatt shortwave transmitters at the BBC's Ascension Island relay station. 

Evening of 19 May: First broadcast of Radio Atlantico del Sur. 

28 May: Radio Atlantico del Sur starts additional daily broadcast in the early morning. 

Evening of 14 June: Argentine forces surrender. 

Evening of 15 June: Final broadcast of Radio Atlantico del Sur. 

16 June: Requisitioned Ascension Island transmitter returned to full BBC use.

Future posts

My next post on this blog will start to look at some of the criticisms that have been made of Radio Atlantico del Sur's aims and methods.

In other future posts I'll look at various topics including:
  • Some of the technicalities of its operations, from its "secret" studio in London to its requisitioned transmitter on Ascension Island 
  • My memories of listening to the station...
  • ... and what happened when I wrote to them
  • BBC Monitoring and Radio Atlantico del Sur
  • ffrench-Blake's thoughts on what might have been done better
  • And that key question: was it the "wrong sort of Spanish"?

Notes and sources

[1] Local time in the Falklands: When Argentine forces invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982 the local time in the islands was 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The occupying forces announced that local time in the islands would be made the same as that in Argentina, which was 3 hours behind GMT.

As an act of civil disobedience, the islanders refused to recognise the imposed time zone.

In this post, however, I have used the Argentine-imposed time zone (GMT minus 3 hours) as RAdS was only targeting Argentine troops, and announced that time on the air.

[2] Station Manager Neil ffrench-Blake said that he and his staff never used the name Moonshine, but instead referred to their work as Operation Pinocchio. He said this reflected their attempts to expose the lies of General Galtieri.

I can't but feel that Pinocchio was no less a hostage to fortune than Moonshine ("foolish talk or ideas" – Oxford English Dictionary) as a codename for such a radio station.

[3] Both of RAdS's frequencies (9700 and 9710 kHz) were close to 9690 kHz, which was used during the 1982 war by various stations in Argentina. 

BBC Monitoring reported in late April that 9690 kHz was being used to relay Radio Rivadavia, a privately-owned station in Buenos Aires, at 0000-1000 GMT, and to air state radio's external service RAE (Radiodifusion Argentina al Exterior) at other times of the day

By late May, BBC Monitoring reported that 9690 kHz was on the air more or less around the clock, with relays at various times of RAE and the domestic services Radio Nacional and Radio Noticias Argentinas.

[4] The original plan, announced by the MoD on 19 May and reported in the following day's British press, was that the morning transmission would be a 90-minute one at 0815 GMT. But when the morning programme was eventually launched on 28 May, its duration had been shortened to 60 minutes and its start time amended slightly to 0830 GMT.


At least one book mistakenly gives 0815-0945 GMT as the actual time of the morning broadcasts.

© 2017. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

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