The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas) was an effective state of war in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands (known in Spanish as the Islas Malvinas) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Falklands consist of two large and many small islands in the South Atlantic Ocean east of Argentina, whose ownership had long been disputed.
Some Argentinians occupied South Georgia March 19, 1982. Initially, HMS Endurance was dispatched to remove the camp on March 25, but was prevented from doing so and forced to retreat by the Argentine Navy corvette ARA Guerrico. Military occupation of the Falklands followed on April 2nd. The war ended with Argentina's surrender on June 14, 1982. War was not declared by either side, and there was no military activity outside the islands; the conflict was considered by Argentina as reoccupation of its own territory, and by Britain as an invasion of a British dependency.
Argentina was in the midst of a devastating economic crisis and large-scale civil unrest against the repressive military junta that was governing the country in the period leading up to the war. The Argentine military government, headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, thought that by launching what it thought would be a quick and easy war to reclaim the Falkland Islands, it would re-kindle national pride and popular support. Britain and Argentina generally enjoyed good relations, although controversy over the islands' sovereignty had been the cause of some tension. This increased on March 19, when 50 Argentines landed on the British dependency of South Georgia and raised their flag, an act that is seen as the first offensive action in the war. On April 2, Galtieri ordered the invasion, triggering the Falklands War.
Though initially surprised by the Argentine attack on the South Atlantic islands, Britain launched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault. After combat resulting in 255 British and 649 Argentinian deaths, the British eventually prevailed and the islands remained under British control, although as of 2006, Argentina shows no sign of relinquishing its claim to the Falkland Islands.
- 1 Lead up to the war
- 2 War
- 3 Analysis
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
- 6 External links
- 7 Credits
The political effects of the war were strong in both countries. The Argentine loss prompted even larger protests against the military government, which hastened its downfall, while a wave of patriotic sentiment swept through the United Kingdom, bolstering the government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and ensuring its victory in the 1983 general election, which, prior to the war, was seen as by no means certain. The war has played an important role in the culture of both countries, and has been the subject of several books, movies, and songs, although due to the low number of casualties on both sides it is not seen as a truly major event of either military or twentieth century history. The cultural and political weight of the conflict has had less effect on the British public than on that of Argentina, where the war is still a topic of discussion. Militarily, however, it remains important as the sole example of a major naval and amphibious operation between modern forces since the Korean War. The wider context of the conflict was Britain's role as a Cold War ally of the U.S. and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Thatcher was anxious to demonstrate that Britain was more than a once-great but no longer significant power, that, even if not a super-power, she still merited her place at the UN.
Lead up to the war
President Galtieri of Argentina raised the profile of the Falkland Islands issue in order to deflect public concern away from the failing economy. He exerted pressure in the United Nations by raising subtle hints of a possible invasion, but the British either missed or ignored this threat and did not react. Galtiera misread this as a sign of British disengagement from the Falklands, and assumed that the British would not use force if the islands were invaded. Britain had given up almost all her colonial possessions. The Falklands had no particular strategic significance. Britain was already in the process of rationalizing her naval presence in the area by withdrawing the icebreaker, HMS Endurance, while British Nationality Act of 1981 replaced the full British citizenship of Falkland Islanders with a more limited version. Most Britons did not even know that they existed, or were still colonies.
It is not known when serious plans to invade the Falklands were first considered, but following the failure of diplomatic talks in January 1982, the invasion plans were updated. Although it is often thought that the Falklands invasion was a long-planned action, it became clear after the war that it had been largely improvised. The isles were not fortified, sea mines were not deployed at strategic landing spots, and a large part of the infantry forces sent to the Falklands consisted of young recruits doing military service. Arguments that the war was a last minute decision are bolstered by the fact that the Argentine Navy would have received, at the end of the year, additional Exocet anti-ship missiles, Super Étendards and new ships being built in West Germany.
The Argentine military knew they were hardly a match for their British counterparts, and the Argentine Air Force (FAA) had realized, in training attacks made during April after the landings against the modern Argentine Navy British-type vessels Type 42, that they could lose more than half of their units in the process of destroying only a few British warships. However, the actual course of the war surprised many observers, since Argentina's losses had been expected to be far worse, given their level of preparedness.
Argentina's original intention was to mount a quick symbolic occupation, quickly followed by a withdrawal, and only a small garrison was left to support the new military governor. All Argentine assault units were withdrawn to the mainland on the following days, but strong popular support and the rapid British reaction encouraged the Junta to change their objectives and reinforce the islands. They misjudged the political climate in Britain, believing that democracies were weak, indecisive, and averse to risk, and did not anticipate that the British would move their fleet halfway across the globe. Margaret Thatcher, however, despite being told by her advisors that it was impossible to retake the islands, was determined to defend British people living on British territory.
During the conflict, there were no formal diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina, so negotiations were carried out in a rather indirect way, via third parties who spoke with one then with the other belligerent nation in a form of shuttle diplomacy. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Peruvian Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, announced that his efforts in favor of peace were futile. Although Peru (which represented Argentina's diplomatic interests in Britain) and Switzerland (which represented Britain's diplomatic interests in Argentina) exerted great diplomatic pressure to avoid war, they were unable to resolve the conflict, and a peace plan proposed by Peruvian president Fernando Belaúnde Terry was rejected by both sides. The U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, also attempted to act as a mediator.
The Argentine Lieutenant-Commander in charge of the invasion, Guillermo Sanchez-Sabarots, landed his squadron of special forces at Mullet Creek. He proceeded to attack the Moody Brook Barracks, the Government House, and Stanley, Falkland Islands, until the British Falkland Islands government located at the Government House surrendered on April 4. One British Royal Marine was wounded, and one Argentine was killed in the main invasion, a further three Argentines were killed in fighting to take control of South Georgia. Royal Marines stationed on the islands may have killed as many 30 Argentinians in defending the island against a much larger invasion force supported by a destroyer and helicopters.
Life under the occupation
Argentina enforced several unwelcome changes to the culture of the Falkland Islands, in spite of earlier assurances that the Islanders' way of life and cultural identity would be maintained. Argentina changed Port Stanley's name to Puerto Argentino, made Spanish the official language of the Islands, and commanded traffic to drive on the right by painting arrows on the road indicating the direction of traffic and changing the location of street and traffic signs. Despite these arrows, the islanders defiantly continued to drive on the left, demonstrating their determination to remain British.
The British were quick to organize diplomatic pressure against Argentina. Because of the long distance to the Falklands, Britain had to rely on a naval task force for military action. The force was commanded by Rear Admiral John "Sandy" Woodward and centered around the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and the newly-commissioned HMS Invincible carrying only 20 Fleet Air Arm (FAA) Sea Harriers between them for defense against the combined Argentintian air force and naval air arm.
A second component was the amphibious group commanded by Commodore M.C. Clapp RN. Contrary to common belief, Admiral Woodward did not command Commodore Clapp's ships. The embarked force comprised of three Commando Brigade Royal Marines, (including units from the Parachute Regiment) under the command of Brigadier J. Thompson RM to bring it up to its wartime strength. Most of this force was aboard the hastily commandeered cruise liner Canberra. Both Clapp and Woodward reported directly to the Commander in Chief Fleet (CINCFLEET), Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, in Britain, who was the overall commander of the operation. The UK declared a "total exclusion zone" of 200 nautical miles (370 km) around the Falklands before commencing operation, excluding all neutral and Argentine vessels.
Throughout the operation, 43 British merchant ships (ships taken up from trade, or STUFT) served with or supplied the task force. Cargo vessels and tankers for fuel and water formed an 8000-mile logistics chain between Britain and the South Atlantic Ocean.
During the journey and up to the war, beginning on May 1, the Task Force was shadowed by Boeing 707 aircraft of the Argentine Air Force. One of these flights was intercepted outside the exclusion zone by a Sea Harrier; the unarmed airplane was not attacked.
Prince Andrew, then second in line to the British throne, served as a Sea King helicopter pilot on HMS Invincible during the war, flying anti-submarine patrols. His helicopter was equipped with a Marconi Searchwater radar and acted as an improvised Airborne Early Warning platform, making it a valuable target. He revealed in an apparently inadvertent admission shortly after the war that he also flew missions as an Exocet missile decoy.
The British called their counter-invasion Operation Corporate. When the task force sailed from Britain, the American news magazine Newsweek cover headline proclaimed "The Empire Strikes Back," the name of a recent Star Wars movie, in humorous reference to the old British Empire. The whole exercise was reminiscent of some of the policing exercises of the nineteenth century, in the days when the Royal Navy tried to keep the peace around the world.
The public mood in the United Kingdom was in support of an attempt to reclaim the islands. International opinion was divided. To some, Britain was a former colonial power, seeking to reclaim a colony from a local power, and this was a message that the Argentines initially used to garner support. Others supported Britain as a stable democracy invaded by a military dictatorship. Most European countries and the United States supported Britain; most Latin American countries supported Argentina. British diplomacy centered on arguing that the Falkland Islanders were entitled to use the United Nations principle of self-determination, and showing willingness to compromise. The UN Secretary-General said that he was favorable to the compromise that the UK had offered. Nevertheless, Argentina rejected it, basing their arguments on rights to territory based on actions before 1945 and the creation of the UN. Many UN members realized that if territorial claims this old could be resurrected, and invasions of territory allowed unchallenged, then their own borders were not safe. On April 3, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 502, calling for the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the islands and the cessation of hostilities. On April 10, the European Community approved trade sanctions against Argentina. The United States administration did not issue direct diplomatic condemnations, instead providing intelligence support to the British military. The U.S. had treaty relations with both sides and adopted a policy of non-interference. Ronald Reagan was also confident that Britain could handle the matter on its own.
Galtieri, and a great part of his government, did not think that the UK would react. This would have astonished British people at the time, already familiar with Margaret Thatcher's uncompromising style of government. She declared that the democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders had been assaulted, and would not surrender the islands to the Argentine jackboot. This stance was aided, at least domestically, by the staunchly loyalist British press, especially The Sun, which ran such headlines as "GOTCHA" (following the sinking of General Belgrano). The Daily Mirror, on the other hand, vehemently opposed the war, attacking their tabloid rival The Sun, and claiming it would "damage your mind."
American non-interference was actually vital to the American-British relationship. Ascension Island, a UK possession, was vital in the long term supply of the Task Force South: however the airbase stationed on it was run and operated by the United States. The American commander of the base was ordered to assist the British in any way, and soon there was more air traffic in and out of Ascension Air Field than at the busiest international airport of the time. The most decisive American contribution was spy satellite and intelligence information, and the rescheduled supply of AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles (which were much more efficient than older models of the Sidewinder, due to their all-aspect targeting capability), allowing the UK to ship its NATO inventory south. Margaret Thatcher stated that "without the Harrier jets and their immense maneuverability, equipped as they were with the latest version of the Sidewinder missile, supplied to us by U.S. Defense Minister Caspar Weinberger, we could never have got back the Falklands." Most of the Sidewinder air to air engagements however, proved to be from the rear.
French president François Mitterrand gave full support to the UK in the Falklands war. As a large part of Argentina's military equipment was French-made, French support was crucial. France provided aircraft, identical to the ones it supplied to Argentina, for British pilots to train against. France provided intelligence to help sabotage the Exocet missiles it sold to Argentina. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher remarked of Mitterrand that "I never forgot the debt we owed him for his personal support … throughout the Falklands Crisis." Sir John Nott, who was UK Secretary of State for Defense during the conflict later acknowledged: "In so many ways Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies."
Latin American support
Despite receiving cursory support from the Organization of American States in a resolution supporting Argentina's sovereignty and deploring European Community sanctions (with Chile, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States attending but abstaining), Argentina received military assistance only from Peru (Peruvian president Belaunde announced that his country was "ready to support Argentina with all the resources it needed") and Venezuela. This came in the form of aircraft supplies like long range air fuel tanks and spare parts. With the War over, Argentina received Mirage 5P fighter planes from the Peruvian Air Force whilst the Argentine Navy received Aermacchi MB-326 and Embraer Bandeirantes from the Brazilian Air Force.
Neighboring Chile became the only major Latin American country to support Britain (and then only indirectly) by providing a military and naval diversion. Chile and Argentina had almost gone to war over the possession of islands south of Tierra del Fuego in 1978 (the dispute ended peacefully with the 1984 Argentina and Chile Peace and Friendship Treaty mediated by Pope John Paul II). The relationship between these two countries was still very tense. The Chilean government was possibly concerned that, if Argentina succeeded in taking the Falklands, General Galtieri's government would invade or attack Chile. The Chilean Connection is described in detail by Sir Lawrence Freedman in his book The Official History of the Falklands Campaign.
By mid-April the Royal Air Force had set up an airbase at Wideawake on the mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, including a sizable force of Vulcan bombers, Victor refuelling aircraft, and F-4 Phantom fighters to protect them. Meanwhile the main British naval task force arrived at Ascension to prepare for war. A small force had already been sent south to re-capture South Georgia.
Recapture of South Georgia
The South Georgia force, Operation Paraquet, under the command of Major Guy Sheridan RM, consisted of Marines from 42 Commando, a troop of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) troops who were intended to land as reconnaissance forces for an invasion by the Royal Marines; embarked on RFA Tidespring. First to arrive was the Churchill class submarine HMS Conqueror on the 19th, and the island was over-flown by a radar-mapping Handley Page Victor on the 20th. The first landings of SAS troops took place on the 21st, but the weather was so bad that their landings and others made the next day were all withdrawn after several helicopters crashed in fog on Fortuna Glacier.
On the 23rd a submarine alert was sounded and operations were halted, with the Tidespring being withdrawn to deeper water to avoid interception. On the 24th the British forces regrouped and headed in to attack the submarine, the ARA Santa Fe, locating it on the 25th and damaging it enough that the crew decided to abandon it. With the Tidespring now far out to sea and an additional defending force of the submarine's crew now landed, Major Sheridan decided to gather the 75 men he had and make a direct assault that day. After a short forced march by the British force, the Argentine forces surrendered without resistance. The British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, broke the news to the media telling them to "Just rejoice at that news!."
The Black Buck Raids
On May 1, operations against the Falklands opened with an attack by RAF Avro Vulcan V bombers on the airfield at Stanley from Wideawake airbase on Ascension. The Vulcan had originally been designed for medium-range stand-off nuclear missions in Europe and did not have the range to fly to the Falklands, requiring several in-flight refuelings. The RAF's tanker planes were mostly converted Victors with similar range, so they too had to be refueled in the air. Thus a total force of 11 tankers were required for only two Vulcans, a massive logistical effort, given both tankers and bombers had to use the same airfield. In the end only a single bomb from all the Black Buck raids hit the runway at Stanley.
The raids, at almost 8,000 miles and 16 hours for the return journey were the longest ranged bombing raids in history at that time. They are credited with the strategic success of causing the Argentine Air Force to withdraw all their Mirage III aircraft to protect against the possibility of similar bombing raids on Argentina but the real fact was that their lack of aerial refueling capability prevent them to effectively used them over the islands so the FAA Grupo 8 Mirages were deployed to Comodoro Rivadavia and Rio Gallegos in April (before the raids) and they remained there until June to protect against the Chilean threat and as reserve for the strike units.
The escalation of the air war
Stanley's runway was too short to support fast jets, so the Argentine Air Force (FAA) had to launch its major strikes from the mainland, severely hampering their efforts in staging combat air patrols and close air support over the islands. Stanley was used as an Argentine strong point throughout the conflict.
The first major strike force comprised 36 aircraft (Skyhawks, Daggers, Canberras, and Mirage escorts), and was launched on May 1, in the belief that the British invasion was imminent or landings had already taken place. Only a section of Grupo 6 (flying IAI Dagger Aircraft) found ships, which were firing at Argentine defenses, near the islands. The Daggers managed to attack the ships and return safely. This was a great stimulus for the Argentine pilots, for they now knew that they could survive an attack against a modern warship, protected by radar ground clutter from the islands and a late "pop-up" profile.
Some of Argentine aircraft were intercepted by Sea Harriers operating from Invincible, and a Dagger and a Canberra airplanes were shot down.
Combat broke out between other Harriers and Mirage fighters of Grupo 8. Both sides refused to fight at the other's best altitude, until two Mirages finally descended to engage. One was shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder, while the other escaped but without enough fuel to return to its mainland airfield. The plane made for Stanley, where it fell victim to friendly fire from the Argentine defenders.
As a result of this experience, Argentine Air Force staff decided to employ Skyhawks and Daggers only as strike units, the Canberras only during the night, and Mirages (without air refueling capability or any capable air-to-air missile) as decoys to lure away the British Sea Harriers. The decoying was later extended with the formation of the Escuadron Fenix, a squadron of civilian jets flying 24 hours a day simulating strike aircraft preparing to attack the fleet. On one of these flights, an Air Force Learjet was shot down killing the squadron commander, Vice Commodore Rodolfo De La Colina, who became the highest-ranking Argentine officer to die in the War.
Sinking of the Belgrano
On May 2 the World War II-vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano—formerly the USS Phoenix (CL-46), a survivor of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks—was sunk by the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror, captained by Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, using WWII vintage design Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes. 321 lives were lost, although initial casualty reports were confused. The Murdoch-owned British tabloid newspaper The Sun infamously greeted the initial reports of the attack (and the sinking of a small gunboat) with the headline "GOTCHA." This first edition was published before news that the Belgrano had actually sunk was known and carried no reports of actual Argentine deaths. The headline was replaced in later editions by the more temperate "Did 1,200 Argies drown?"
In all, 323 Argentines died, half of all their War losses.
The gunboat was the ARA Alferez Sobral, an ocean/patrol tug sent to search for the crew of an Argentinian plane shot down on May 1. Two Sea Lynxs fired four Sea Skua against her. Badly damaged and with eight crew dead, the Sobral managed to return to Puerto Deseado two days later, but the plane's crew was never found.
The loss of General Belgrano hardened the stance of the Argentine government and also became a cause celebre for anti-war campaigners (such as Labour MP Tam Dalyell), who declared that the ship had been sailing away from the Falklands at the time. The vessel was inarguably outside the exclusion zone, and sailing away from the area of conflict. However, during war, under international law, the heading of a belligerent naval vessel has no bearing on its status and the captain of the Belgrano, Hector Bonzo, has testified that the attack was legitimate. In later years it has been claimed that the information on the position of the ARA General Belgrano came from a Soviet spy satellite which was tapped by the Norwegian intelligence service station at Fauske in Norway, and then handed over to the British. As of 2006 the Belgrano remains the only warship sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine in time of war.
Regardless of controversies over the sinking, it had an important strategic effect. After the loss of ARA General Belgrano, the entire Argentine fleet returned to port and did not leave again for the duration of hostilities. The two destroyers supporting General Belgrano and the task force built around the aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo both withdrew from the area, ending the direct threat to the British fleet that their pincer movement had represented. The attack on General Belgrano was the second time since the end of World War II that a submarine had fired torpedoes in wartime and the only time that a nuclear powered submarine has done so.
Sinking of HMS Sheffield
Two days after the sinking of General Belgrano, on May 4, the British lost the Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield to fire following an Exocet missile strike. Sheffield had been ordered forward with two other Type 42s in order to provide a radar and missile "picket" far from the British carriers. After the ships were detected by a COAN (Argentine Naval Aviation Command) P-2 Neptune patrol aircraft, two COAN Dassault Super Étendards were launched from their base at Rio Grande, each armed with a single Exocet missile. Refuelled by an Air Force KC-130H Hercules after launch, they went in at low altitude, popped up for a radar check and released the missiles from 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 km) away. One missed HMS Yarmouth, due to her deployment of radar chaff, but the other hit the Sheffield. The weapon struck with devastating effect, hitting the center of the ship and starting raging fires which quickly spread, killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. While fighting the fire, Yarmouth fired anti-submarine weaponry in response to a possible Argentine submarine attack. Sheffield was deaf to the tell-tale Exocet seeker radar at the time as the ESM equipment on board had been switched off to enable the use of the satellite transceiver. The two systems, due to poor design, interfered and couldn't be used simultaneously.
Landing at San Carlos Water
During the night of May 21, the British made an amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water, on the northern coast of East Falkland, putting the 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade, including 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment (2 and 3 Para), ashore from the amphibious ships and the liner Canberra: 2 Para and 40 Commando landing at San Carlos beach; 45 Commando at Ajax bay; 3 Para at Port San Carlos. By dawn the next day they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations. From there Brigadier Thompson's plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Stanley.
At sea, the paucity of British ships' anti-aircraft defenses was demonstrated in the sinking of HMS Ardent on the 21, HMS Antelope on the 23, and MV Atlantic Conveyor, with a vital cargo of helicopters, runway building equipment, and tents on the 25th. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor was a severe blow from a logistics perspective: The sole surviving Chinook was called Bravo November. Also lost on this day was HMS Coventry, a sister to HMS Sheffield, whilst in company with HMS Broadsword. HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were badly damaged. However, many British ships escaped terminal damage due to the Argentine pilots' bombing tactics. In order to avoid the high concentration of British air defenses, Argentine pilots were forced to swoop in and launch their bombs from a low altitude at the very last moment. The Argentines lost nearly twenty aircraft in these attacks, including several Pucarás on the ground.
Starting early on May 27, and through May 28, 2 Para approached and attacked Darwin and Goose Green, which was held by the Argentine 12th Inf Regt. After a tough struggle, which lasted all night and into the next day, 17 British and 55 Argentine soldiers had been killed, and 1,050 Argentine troops taken prisoner. Due to an error by the British Broadcasting Company, the taking of Goose Green was announced on the BBC World Service before it had actually happened. It was during this attack that Lt Col H. Jones, the commanding officer of 2 Para was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
From May 27, men of 45 Cdo and 3 Para started walking across East Falkland towards the coastal settlement of Teal Inlet. Meanwhile 42 Cdo prepared to move by helicopter to Mount Kent. For the next week, the SAS and Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre waged intense patrol battles with reconnaissance patrols of the 602nd Commando Company. Despite casualties, Stanley was now within sight.
Bluff Cove & Fitzroy
By June 1, with the arrival of a further 5,000 British troops of the 5th Infantry Brigade the new British divisional commander, Major General JJ Moore RM, had sufficient force to start planning an offensive against Stanley.
During this build-up, the Argentine air assaults on the British naval forces continued, killing 48. 32 of these deaths were from the Welsh Guards on RFA Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram on June 8. Many others suffered serious burns.
The Guards were sent to support a "dashing" advance along the southern approach to Stanley. On June 2, a small advance party of 2 Para moved to Swan Inlet house in a number of Army Scout helicopters. Telephoning ahead to Fitzroy, they discovered the area clear of Argentines and (exceeding their authority) commandeered the one remaining Chinook to frantically ferry another part of 2 Para ahead to Fitzroy (a settlement on Port Pleasant) and Bluff Cove (a settlement confusingly, and perhaps ultimately fatally, on Port Fitzroy).
This uncoordinated advance caused planning nightmares for the commanders of the combined operation, as they now found themselves with a 30-mile string of undefendable positions on their southern flank. Support could not be sent by air as the single remaining Chinook was already heavily oversubscribed. The soldiers could march, but their equipment and heavy supplies would need to be ferried by sea. Plans were drawn up for half the Welsh Guards to march light on the night of the 2nd, whilst the Scots Guards and the second half of the Welsh were to be ferried from San Carlos Water in the landing ship (LSL) Sir Tristram and the landing platform dock (LPD) Intrepid on the night of the 5th. Intrepid was planned to stay one day and unload itself and as much of Sir Tristram as possible, leaving the next evening for the relative safety of San Carlos. Escorts would be provided for this day, whilst Sir Tristram would be left to unload using an inflatable platform known as a Mexeflote for as long as it took.
Political pressure from above to not risk the LPD forced Mike Clapp (Commander Amphibious Forces) to alter this plan. Two lower-value LSLs would be sent, but without suitable beaches to land, Intrepid's landing craft would need to accompany them to unload. A complicated operation across several nights with Intrepid and Fearless (her sister ship) sailing half-way to dispatch their craft was devised. The attempted overland march by half the Welsh Guards had failed, possibly because they refused to march light and attempted to carry their equipment. They returned to San Carlos and were landed direct to Bluff Cove when Fearless dispatched her landing craft. Sir Tristram sailed on the night of the 6th and was joined by Sir Galahad at dawn on the 7th.
Anchored 1200 feet apart in Port Pleasant, the landing ships were near Fitzroy, the ordered landing point. The landing craft should have been able to unload the ships to here relatively quickly, but confusion over the ordered disembarkation point (the first half of the Guards going direct to Bluff Cove) resulted in the senior Welsh Guards infantry officer aboard insisting his troops be ferried the far longer distance direct to Port Fitzroy/Bluff Cove. The intention was for the infantrymen to march via the recently repaired Bluff Cove bridge (destroyed by retreating Argentinian combat engineers) to their destination, a journey of around 7 miles.
The longer journey time of the landing craft taking the troops direct and the squabbling over how the landing was to be performed caused enormous delay in unloading. It had disastrous consequences. Without escorts, having not yet established their air defense and still almost fully laden, the two LSLs in Port Pleasant were sitting targets for two waves of Argentinian-FAA A-4 Skyhawks.
The disaster at Port Pleasant (although often known as Bluff Cove) would provide the world with some of the most sobering images of the war as TV news video footage showed Navy helicopters hovering in thick smoke to winch survivors from the burning landing ships.
Battle for Stanley
On the night of 11 June, after several days of painstaking reconnaissance and logistic build-up, British forces launched a brigade-sized night attack against the heavily defended ring of high ground surrounding Stanley. Units of 3 Commando Brigade, supported by naval gunfire from several Royal Navy ships, simultaneously assaulted Mount Harriet, Two Sisters, and Mount Longdon. During this battle, thirteen were killed when HMS Glamorgan, which was providing naval gunfire support, was struck by an Exocet fired from the back of a truck, further displaying the vulnerability of ships to anti-ship missiles. On this day, Sgt Ian McKay of 4 Platoon, B Company, 3 Para died in a grenade attack on an Argentine bunker which was to earn him a posthumous Victoria Cross. After a night of fierce fighting, all objectives were secured.
The night of June 13 saw the start of the second phase of attacks, in which the momentum of the initial assault was maintained. 2 Para captured Wireless Ridge, and the 2nd battalion, Scots Guards captured Mount Tumbledown.
On June 14, the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Mario Menendez, surrendered to Major General JJ Moore, RM. 9,800 Argentine troops were made POWs and were repatriated to Argentina on the liner Canberra. On June 20, the British retook the South Sandwich Islands, (which involved accepting the surrender of the Southern Thule Garrison at the Corbeta Uruguay base) and declared the hostilities were at an end.
The war lasted 74 days, with 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and three civilian Falklanders killed.
The British Government decreed all classified information would be available to the public in the year 2082.
Militarily, the Falklands War was important for a number of reasons. For example, as one of the few naval battles to have taken place after World War II, it illustrated the vulnerability of surface ships to anti-ship missiles and reaffirmed the effectiveness of aircraft in naval warfare. The conflict also re-emphasized the value of total air supremacy, which neither side achieved, but both sides gained results from the air. All of the UK losses at sea were achieved by aircraft or missile strikes. The French Exocet missile proved its lethality, which resulted in the retrofitting of most major ships with close-in weapons systems (CIWS). The war vindicated the UK decision to develop the Harrier aircraft, that showed its capability of operating from forward bases with no runways. At sea, it demonstrated the domination of airpower in major engagements and the usefulness of carriers. The logistics capability of the UK armed forces was stretched to the absolute limit in order to mount an amphibious operation so far from a home-base, onto mountainous islands which have few roads. After the war, much work was done to improve both the logistics and amphibious capability of the Royal Navy. The role of Special Forces units, which destroyed many Argentine aircraft (such as those destroyed during the SAS raid on Pebble Island) and carried out intelligence gathering operations, was reaffirmed. So was the usefulness of helicopters operations.
On the other hand, the British Ministry of Defense had been accused of a systematic failure to prepare service personnel for the horrors of war and provide adequate care for them afterwards. Hardly any soldiers had experienced actual conflict.
The Ministry of Defense is also accused of ignoring the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which left many sufferers emotionally scarred and unable to work, immersed in social dislocation, alcoholism, and depression. Most veterans have suffered prolonged personality disorders, flashbacks and anxiety levels sometimes reaching pathological levels.
More veterans have committed suicide since the Falklands War ended than the number of servicemen killed in action.
The Falklands War illustrates the role of political miscalculation and miscommunication in creating war. Both sides seriously underestimated the importance of the Falklands to the other. The Falklands War illustrates the role of chance in determining what happens in a war. Some commentators believe that the war could have ended in an Argentine victory if one of the Exocets had hit an aircraft carrier, or if the frequent unexploded bombs had detonated on striking some of the ships, or if Argentina had attacked the British artillery, using the three paratroop regiments already deployed at Comodoro Rivadavia. Equally, if the Argentines had made better preparations to hold the islands, they might have been able to do so, but they did not expect that the British would attempt to carry out a war 8,000 miles (13,000 km) from home. Either way, an Argentine victory might have been an unacceptable show of weakness on the part of the UK during an intense period of the Cold War, and as a result some have doubted that such an outcome would have been allowed to remain for long. With the UK being an integral U.S. ally and important part of NATO, to permit a loss would have been a signal to the USSR that the NATO alliance was militarily and politically weak.
It has also been said by diplomats that following the British victory there was an increase in international respect for Britain, formerly regarded as a fading colonial power. As mentioned earlier, the victory was not overlooked by the USSR, which increased troop levels facing the British Army of the Rhine soon after, and was an important junction in the Cold War.
With the renewal of confidence gained from the victory, Margaret Thatcher suggested in her September 1982 China visit an extension of the British rule of the New Territories in Hong Kong which, legally, was to end in 1997 with the expiry of the 99-year lease.
The Argentine military government was ousted after mounting protests by human rights and war veterans groups. Galtieri was forced to resign, paving the way for the restoration of democracy. Elections were held on October 30, 1983. The start of the Falklands War is commemorated as Día del Veterano de Guerra y los Caídos en Malvinas, a public holiday in Argentina, usually on the first Monday of April. It is sometimes referred to as Malvinas Day.
In May 1982, Pope John Paul II carried out a long scheduled visit to the UK. In view of the crisis it was decided that this should be balanced with an unscheduled trip to Argentina in June. It is contended that his presence and words spiritually prepared Argentines for a possible defeat, contrary to the propaganda issued by the Junta. He would return to Argentina in 1987 after democratization.
- BBC News, 1982: Dozens Killed as Argentines hit British ships. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
- The Telegraph, How France helped us win the Falklands War by John Nott. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
- Spy Flight, The Falklands Campaign—the Chilean Connection. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Barnett, Anthony. Iron Britannia. London : Allison & Busby, 1982. ISBN 0850314933
- Dalyell, Tam. One Man's Falklands. London : Cecil Woolf, 1982. ISBN 0900821647
- Dalyell, Tam. Thatcher's Torpedo. London : Cecil Woolf, 1983. ISBN 0900821663
- Freedman, Sir L. Official History of the Falklands, Vol 2(Cabinet Office Series of Official Histories). Frank Cass, 2005. ISBN 0714652075
- Gavshon, Arthur L. and Desmond Rice. The Sinking of the Belgrano. London : Secker & Warburg, 1984. ISBN 0436413329
- Harris, Robert. Gotcha! The Media, the Government and the Falklands Crisis. London ; Boston : Faber and Faber, 1983. ISBN 0571130526
- Tinker, David. A Message from the Falklands, The Life and Gallant Death of David Tinker, Lieut. R.N. from his Letters and Poems. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England ; New York, N.Y., U.SA: Penguin, 1983, c1982. ISBN 0140067787
- Underwood, Geoffrey. Our Falklands War, The Men of the Task Force Tell Their Story. Duloe, Liskeard, Cornwall: Maritime Books, 1983. ISBN 0907771084
All links retrieved March 25, 2017.
- The Guardian: Julian Barnes.
- Movie Iluminados por el fuego regarding Argentine veterans suicide (German).
- Naval-History.Net—"Battle Atlas of the Falklands War 1982".
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