The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas) was a 10-week undeclared war between Argentina and the United Kingdom between 02 April 1982 and 14 June 1982 over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and its territorial dependency, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The result of the war was a British victory.
The conflict began on 02 April, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, followed by the invasion of South Georgia the next day. On 05 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender on 14 June, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.
The conflict was a major episode in the protracted dispute over the territories’ sovereignty. Argentina asserted (and maintains) that the islands are Argentine territory, and the Argentine government thus characterised its military action as the reclamation of its own territory. The British government regarded the action as an invasion of a territory that had been a Crown colony since 1841. Falkland Islanders, who have inhabited the islands since the early 19th century, are predominantly descendants of British settlers, and strongly favour British sovereignty. Neither state officially declared war, although both governments declared the Islands a war zone.
The conflict has had a strong effect in both countries and has been the subject of various books, articles, films, and songs. Patriotic sentiment ran high in Argentina, but the unfavourable outcome prompted large protests against the ruling military government, hastening its downfall and the democratisation of the country. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government, bolstered by the successful outcome, was re-elected with an increased majority the following year. The cultural and political effect of the conflict has been less in the UK than in Argentina, where it has remained a common topic for discussion.
Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina were restored in 1989 following a meeting in Madrid, at which the two governments issued a joint statement. No change in either country’s position regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands was made explicit. In 1994, Argentina adopted a new Constitution, which declared the Falkland Islands by law as an Argentine province. However, the islands continue to operate as a self-governing British Overseas Territory.
In 1965, the United Nations called upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to reach a settlement of the sovereignty dispute. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) regarded the islands as a nuisance and barrier to UK trade in South America, so, whilst confident of British sovereignty, was prepared to cede the islands to Argentina. When news of a proposed transfer broke in 1968, elements sympathetic with the plight of the islanders were able to organise an effective Parliamentary lobby to frustrate the FCO plans. Negotiations continued but in general failed to make meaningful progress; the islanders steadfastly refused to consider Argentine sovereignty on one side, whilst Argentina would not compromise over sovereignty on the other. The FCO then sought to make the islands dependent on Argentina, hoping this would make the islanders more amenable to Argentine sovereignty. A Communications Agreement signed in 1971 created an airlink and later YPF, the Argentine oil company, was given a monopoly in the islands.
In 1980, a new Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Ridley, went to the Falklands trying to sell the islanders the benefits of a leaseback scheme, which met with strong opposition from the islanders. On returning to London in December 1980 he reported to parliament but was viciously attacked at what was seen as a sellout (It was unlikely that leaseback could have succeeded since the British had sought a long-term lease of 99 years, whilst Argentina was pressing for a much shorter period of only 10 years). At a private committee meeting that evening, it was reported that Ridley cried out: “If we don’t do something, they will invade. And there is nothing we could do.”
The Argentine Junta
In the period leading up to the war – and, in particular, following the transfer of power between the military dictators General Jorge Rafael Videla and General Roberto Eduardo Viola late in March 1981 – Argentina had been in the midst of devastating economic stagnation and large-scale civil unrest against the military junta that had been governing the country since 1976.
In December 1981 there was a further change in the Argentine military regime, bringing to office a new junta headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri (acting president), Air Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo and Admiral Jorge Anaya. Anaya was the main architect and supporter of a military solution for the long-standing claim over the islands, calculating that the United Kingdom would never respond militarily.
By opting for military action, the Galtieri government hoped to mobilise the long-standing patriotic feelings of Argentines towards the islands, diverting public attention from the chronic economic problems and the ongoing human rights violations of its Dirty War, bolstering the junta’s dwindling legitimacy. The newspaper La Prensa speculated on a step-by-step plan beginning with cutting off supplies to the islands, ending in direct actions late in 1982, if the UN talks were fruitless.
The ongoing tension between the two countries over the islands increased on 19 March, when a group of Argentine scrap metal merchants (actually infiltrated by Argentine Marines) raised the Argentine flag at South Georgia Island, an act that would later be seen as the first offensive action in the war. The Royal Navy ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance was dispatched from Stanley to South Georgia on the 25th in response. The Argentine military junta, suspecting that the UK would reinforce its South Atlantic Forces, ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands to be brought forward to 2 April.
The UK was initially taken by surprise by the Argentine attack on the South Atlantic islands, despite repeated warnings by Royal Navy captain Nicholas Barker (commander of the Endurance) and others. Barker believed that Defence Secretary John Nott’s 1981 Defence White Paper (in which Nott described plans to withdraw the Endurance, the UK’s only naval presence in the South Atlantic) had sent a signal to the Argentines that the UK was unwilling, and would soon be unable, to defend its territories and subjects in the Falklands.
On 02 April 1982 Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings, known as Operation Rosario, on the Falkland Islands. The invasion was met with a nominal defence organised by the Falkland Islands’ Governor Sir Rex Hunt, giving command to Major Mike Norman of the Royal Marines. The events of the invasion included the landing of Lieutenant Commander Guillermo Sanchez-Sabarots’ Amphibious Commandos Group, the attack on Moody Brook barracks, the engagement between the troops of Hugo Santillan and Bill Trollope at Stanley, and the final engagement and surrender at Government House.
Initial British Response
The British had already taken action prior to the 02 April invasion. In response to events on South Georgia, on 29 March, Ministers decided to send the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Austin south from the Mediterranean to support HMS Endurance, and the submarine HMS Spartan from Gibraltar, with HMS Splendid ordered south from Scotland the following day. Lord Carrington had wished to send a third submarine, but the decision was deferred due to concerns about the impact on operational commitments. Coincidentally, on 26 March, the submarine HMS Superb left Gibraltar and it was assumed in the press it was heading south. There has since been speculation that the effect of those reports was to panic the Argentine junta into invading the Falklands before nuclear-powered submarines could be deployed.
The following day, during a crisis meeting headed by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, advised them that “Britain could and should send a task force if the islands are invaded”. On 01 April, Leach sent orders to a Royal Navy force carrying out exercises in the Mediterranean to prepare to sail south. Following the invasion on 02 April, after an emergency meeting of the cabinet, approval was given to form a task force to retake the islands. This was backed in an emergency session of the House of Commons the next day.
Word of the invasion first reached the UK from Argentine sources. A Ministry of Defence operative in London had a short telex conversation with Governor Hunt’s telex operator, who confirmed that Argentines were on the island and in control. Later that day, BBC journalist Laurie Margolis spoke with an islander at Goose Green via amateur radio, who confirmed the presence of a large Argentine fleet and that Argentine forces had taken control of the island. British military operations in the Falklands War were given the codename Operation Corporate, and the commander of the task force was Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. Operations lasted from 01 April 1982 to 20 June 1982.
On 06 April, the British Government set up a War Cabinet to provide day-to-day political oversight of the campaign. This was the critical instrument of crisis management for the British with its remit being to “keep under review political and military developments relating to the South Atlantic, and to report as necessary to the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee”. The War Cabinet met at least daily until it was dissolved on 12 August. Although Margaret Thatcher is described as dominating the War Cabinet, Lawrence Freedman notes in the Official History of the Falklands Campaign that she did not ignore opposition or fail to consult others. However, once a decision was reached she “did not look back”.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 502
On 31 March 1982, the Argentine ambassador to the UN, Eduardo Roca, tried garnering support against a British military build-up designed to thwart earlier UN resolutions calling for both countries to resolve their Falklands dispute through discussion. He did this because Argentina, based on inadequate intelligence gathering, was convinced a British task force was already on its way to the South Atlantic, and because of Britain’s threat to use HMS Endurance to remove the scrap-metal workers from South Georgia. Any Argentine military action could then be justified as trying to counter Britain’s use of force to evade complying with an earlier UN resolution. This Argentine approach to portray Britain as the aggressor came to nothing.
On 1 April, London told the UK ambassador to the UN, Sir Anthony Parsons, that an invasion was imminent and he should call an urgent meeting of the Security Council to get a favourable resolution against Argentina. Parsons had to get nine affirmative votes from the 15 Council members (not a simple majority) and to avoid a blocking vote from any of the other four permanent members. The meeting took place at 11.00 am on 03 April, New York time (4.00 pm in London). United Nations Security Council Resolution 502 was adopted by 10 to 1 (with Panama voting against) and 4 abstentions. Significantly, the Soviet Union and China both abstained. The resolution stated that the UN Security Council was:
- Deeply disturbed at reports of an invasion on 02 April 1982 by armed forces of Argentina;
- Determining that there exists a breach of the peace in the region of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas),
- Demands an immediate cessation of hostilities;
- Demands an immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas); and
- Calls on the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a diplomatic solution to their differences and to respect fully the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
This was a significant win for the UK, giving it the upper hand diplomatically. The draft resolution Parsons submitted had avoided any reference to the sovereignty dispute (which might have worked against the UK): instead it focused on Argentina’s breach of Chapter VII of the UN Charter which forbids the threat or use of force to settle disputes. The resolution called for the removal only of Argentine forces: this freed Britain to retake the islands militarily, if Argentina did not leave, by exercising its right to self-defence, that was allowed under the UN Charter.
British Task Force
Refer to British Logistics in the Falklands War.
The British government had no contingency plan for an invasion of the islands, and the task force was rapidly put together from whatever vessels were available. The nuclear-powered submarine Conqueror set sail from France on 04 April, whilst the two aircraft carriers Invincible and Hermes, in the company of escort vessels, left Portsmouth only a day later. On its return to Southampton from a world cruise on 07 April, the ocean liner SS Canberra was requisitioned and set sail two days later with 3 Commando Brigade aboard. The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was also requisitioned and left Southampton on 12 May with 5th Infantry Brigade on board. The whole task force eventually comprised 127 ships: 43 Royal Navy vessels, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and 62 merchant ships.
The retaking of the Falkland Islands was considered extremely difficult. The chances of a British counter-invasion succeeding were assessed by the US Navy, according to historian Arthur L. Herman, as “a military impossibility”. Firstly, the British were significantly constrained by the disparity in deployable air cover. The British had 42 aircraft (28 Sea Harriers and 14 Harrier GR.3s) available for air combat operations, against approximately 122 serviceable jet fighters, of which about 50 were used as air superiority fighters and the remainder as strike aircraft, in Argentina’s air forces during the war. Crucially, the British lacked airborne early warning and control (AEW) aircraft. Planning also considered the Argentine surface fleet and the threat posed by Exocet-equipped vessels or the two Type 209 submarines.
By mid-April, the Royal Air Force had set up the airbase of RAF Ascension Island, co-located with Wideawake Airfield on the mid-Atlantic British overseas territory of Ascension Island, including a sizeable force of Avro Vulcan B Mk 2 bombers, Handley Page Victor K Mk 2 refuelling aircraft, and McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR Mk 2 fighters to protect them. Meanwhile, the main British naval task force arrived at Ascension to prepare for active service. A small force had already been sent south to recapture South Georgia.
Encounters began in April; the British Task Force was shadowed by Boeing 707 aircraft of the Argentine Air Force during their travel to the south. Several of these flights were intercepted by Sea Harriers outside the British-imposed Total Exclusion Zone; the unarmed 707s were not attacked because diplomatic moves were still in progress and the UK had not yet decided to commit itself to armed force. On 23 April, a Brazilian commercial Douglas DC-10 from VARIG Airlines en route to South Africa was intercepted by British Harriers who visually identified the civilian plane.
Recapture of South Georgia and the Attack on Santa Fe
Refer to Operation Paraquet (1982).
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. All were embarked on RFA Tidespring. First to arrive was the Churchill-class submarine HMS Conqueror on 19 April, and the island was over-flown by a radar-mapping Handley Page Victor on 20 April.
The first landings of SAS troops took place on 21 April, but – with the southern hemisphere autumn setting in – the weather was so bad that their landings and others made the next day were all withdrawn after two helicopters crashed in fog on Fortuna Glacier. On 23 April, a submarine alert was sounded and operations were halted, with Tidespring being withdrawn to deeper water to avoid interception. On 24 April, the British forces regrouped and headed in to attack.
On 25 April, after resupplying the Argentine garrison in South Georgia, the submarine ARA Santa Fe was spotted on the surface by a Westland Wessex HAS Mk 3 helicopter from HMS Antrim, which attacked the Argentine submarine with depth charges. HMS Plymouth launched a Westland Wasp HAS.Mk.1 helicopter, and HMS Brilliant launched a Westland Lynx HAS Mk 2. The Lynx launched a torpedo, and strafed the submarine with its pintle-mounted general purpose machine gun; the Wessex also fired on Santa Fe with its GPMG. The Wasp from HMS Plymouth as well as two other Wasps launched from HMS Endurance fired AS-12 ASM anti-ship missiles at the submarine, scoring hits. Santa Fe was damaged badly enough to prevent her from diving. The crew abandoned the submarine at the jetty at King Edward Point on South Georgia.
With Tidespring now far out to sea, and the Argentine forces augmented by the submarine’s crew, Major Sheridan decided to gather the 76 men he had and make a direct assault that day. After a short forced march by the British troops and a naval bombardment demonstration by two Royal Navy vessels (Antrim and Plymouth), the Argentine forces surrendered without resistance. The message sent from the naval force at South Georgia to London was, “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God Save the Queen.” The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, broke the news to the media, telling them to “Just rejoice at that news, and congratulate our forces and the Marines!”
Refer to Operation Algeciras (1982).
Black Buck Raids
Refer to Operation Black Buck (1982).
On 01 May British operations on the Falklands opened with the “Black Buck 1” attack (of a series of five) on the airfield at Stanley. A Vulcan bomber from Ascension flew on an 8,000-nautical-mile (15,000 km; 9,200 miles) round trip dropping conventional bombs across the runway at Stanley and back to Ascension. The mission required repeated refuelling, and required several Victor K2 tanker aircraft operating in concert, including tanker-to-tanker refuelling. The overall effect of the raids on the war is difficult to determine, and the raids consumed precious tanker resources from Ascension, but also prevented Argentina from stationing fast jets on the islands.
Historian Lawrence Freedman, who was given access to official sources, comments that the significance of the Vulcan raids remains controversial. Although taking pressure off the small Sea Harrier force, the raids were costly and used a great deal of resources. The single hit in the centre of the runway was probably the best that could have been expected but it did reduce the capability of the runway to operate fast jets and caused the Argentine air force to deploy Mirage III to defend the capital. Argentine sources confirm that the Vulcan raids influenced Argentina to withdraw some of its Mirage IIIs from Southern Argentina to the Buenos Aires Defence Zone. This dissuasive effect was watered down when British officials made clear that there would not be strikes on air bases in Argentina. The raids were later dismissed as propaganda by Falklands veteran Commander Nigel Ward.
Of the five Black Buck raids, three were against Stanley Airfield, with the other two anti-radar missions using Shrike anti-radiation missiles.
Escalation of the Air War
Refer to Operation Mikado (1982).
The Falklands had only three airfields. The longest and only paved runway was at the capital, Stanley, and even that was too short to support fast jets (although an arrestor gear was fitted in April to support Skyhawks). Therefore, the Argentines were forced to launch their major strikes from the mainland, severely hampering their efforts at forward staging, combat air patrols, and close air support over the islands. The effective loiter time of incoming Argentine aircraft was low, and they were later compelled to overfly British forces in any attempt to attack the islands.
The first major Argentine strike force comprised 36 aircraft (A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers, English Electric Canberras, and Mirage III escorts), and was sent on 01 May, 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 defences near the islands. The Daggers managed to attack the ships and return safely. This greatly boosted the morale of the Argentine pilots, who now knew they could survive an attack against modern warships, protected by radar ground clutter from the islands and by using a late pop up profile. Meanwhile, other Argentine aircraft were intercepted by BAE Sea Harriers operating from HMS Invincible. A Dagger and a Canberra were shot down.
Combat broke out between Sea Harrier FRS Mk 1 fighters of No. 801 Naval Air Squadron and Mirage III 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 air-to-air missile (AAM), while the other escaped but was damaged and without enough fuel to return to its mainland airbase. 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 A-4 Skyhawks and Daggers only as strike units, the Canberras only during the night, and Mirage IIIs (without air refuelling capability or any capable AAM) as decoys to lure away the British Sea Harriers. The decoying would be later extended with the formation of the Escuadrón Fénix, a squadron of civilian jets flying 24 hours a day, simulating strike aircraft preparing to attack the fleet. On one of these flights on 7 June, an Air Force Learjet 35A was shot down, killing the squadron commander, Vice Commodore Rodolfo De La Colina, the highest-ranking Argentine officer to die in the war.
Stanley was used as an Argentine strongpoint throughout the conflict. Despite the Black Buck and Harrier raids on Stanley airfield (no fast jets were stationed there for air defence) and overnight shelling by detached ships, it was never out of action entirely. Stanley was defended by a mixture of surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (Franco-German Roland and British Tigercat) and Swiss-built Oerlikon 35 mm twin anti-aircraft cannons. Lockheed Hercules transport night flights brought supplies, weapons, vehicles, and fuel, and airlifted out the wounded up until the end of the conflict.
The only Argentine Hercules shot down by the British was lost on 1 June when TC-63 was intercepted by a Sea Harrier in daylight when it was searching for the British fleet north-east of the islands after the Argentine Navy retired its last SP-2H Neptune due to airframe attrition.
Various options to attack the home base of the five Argentine Étendards at Río Grande were examined and discounted (Operation Mikado); subsequently five Royal Navy submarines lined up, submerged, on the edge of Argentina’s 12-nautical-mile (22 km; 14 mile) territorial limit to provide early warning of bombing raids on the British task force.
Sinking of ARA General Belgrano
Two British naval task forces (one of surface vessels and one of submarines) and the Argentine fleet were operating in the neighbourhood of the Falklands and soon came into conflict. The first naval loss was the Second World War-vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano. The nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror sank General Belgrano on 02 May. Three hundred and twenty-three members of General Belgrano’s crew died in the incident. More than 700 men were rescued from the open ocean despite cold seas and stormy weather. The losses from General Belgrano totalled nearly half of the Argentine deaths in the Falklands conflict, and the loss of the ship hardened the stance of the Argentine government.
Regardless of controversies over the sinking – including disagreement about the exact nature of the maritime exclusion zone and whether General Belgrano had been returning to port at the time of the sinking – it had a crucial strategic effect: the elimination of the Argentine naval threat. After her loss, the entire Argentine fleet, with the exception of the diesel-powered submarine ARA San Luis, returned to port and did not leave again during the fighting. The two escorting destroyers and the battle group centred on 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.
However, settling the controversy in 2003, the ship’s captain Hector Bonzo confirmed that General Belgrano had actually been manoeuvring, not sailing away from the exclusion zone, and that the captain had orders to sink any British ship he could find.
In a separate incident later that night, British forces engaged an Argentine patrol gunboat, the ARA Alferez Sobral, that was searching for the crew of the Argentine Air Force Canberra light bomber shot down on 01 May. Two Royal Navy Lynx helicopters fired four Sea Skua missiles at her. Badly damaged and with eight crew dead, Alferez Sobral managed to return to Puerto Deseado two days later. The Canberra’s crew were never found.
Sinking of HMS Sheffield
On 04 May, two days after the sinking of General Belgrano, the British lost the Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield to fire following an Exocet missile strike from the Argentine 2nd Naval Air Fighter/Attack Squadron.
Sheffield had been ordered forward with two other Type 42s to provide a long-range radar and medium-high altitude missile picket far from the British carriers. She was struck amidships, with devastating effect, ultimately killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. The ship was abandoned several hours later, gutted and deformed by the fires that continued to burn for six more days. She finally sank outside the Maritime Exclusion Zone on 10 May.
The incident is described in detail by Admiral Sandy Woodward in his book One Hundred Days, in Chapter One. Woodward was a former commanding officer of Sheffield. The destruction of Sheffield (the first Royal Navy ship sunk in action since World War II) had a profound impact on the British public, bringing home the fact that the “Falklands Crisis”, as the BBC News put it, was now an actual “shooting war”.
The tempo of operations increased throughout the first half of May as the United Nations’ attempts to mediate a peace were rejected by the Argentines. The final British negotiating position was presented to Argentina by UN Secretary General Pérez de Cuéllar on 18 May 1982. In it, the British abandoned their previous “red-line” that British administration of the islands should be restored on the withdrawal of Argentine forces, as supported by United Nations Security Council Resolution 502.
Instead, it proposed a UN administrator should supervise the mutual withdrawal of both Argentine and British forces, then govern the islands in consultation with the representative institutions of the islands, including Argentines, although no Argentines lived there. Reference to “self-determination” of the islanders was dropped and the British proposed that future negotiations over the sovereignty of the islands should be conducted by the UN.
Special Forces Operations
Given the threat to the British fleet posed by the Étendard-Exocet combination, plans were made to use C-130s to fly in some SAS troops to attack the home base of the five Étendards at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego. The operation was codenamed “Mikado”. The operation was later scrapped, after acknowledging that its chances of success were limited, and replaced with a plan to use the submarine HMS Onyx to drop SAS operatives several miles offshore at night for them to make their way to the coast aboard rubber inflatables and proceed to destroy Argentina’s remaining Exocet stockpile.
An SAS reconnaissance team was dispatched to carry out preparations for a seaborne infiltration. A Westland Sea King helicopter carrying the assigned team took off from HMS Invincible on the night of 17 May, but bad weather forced it to land 50 miles (80 km) from its target and the mission was aborted. The pilot flew to Chile, landed south of Punta Arenas, and dropped off the SAS team. The helicopter’s crew of three then destroyed the aircraft, surrendered to Chilean police on 25 May, and were repatriated to the UK after interrogation. The discovery of the burnt-out helicopter attracted considerable international attention. Meanwhile, the SAS team crossed the border and penetrated into Argentina, but cancelled their mission after the Argentines suspected an SAS operation and deployed some 2,000 troops to search for them. The SAS men were able to return to Chile, and took a civilian flight back to the UK.
On 14 May the SAS carried out a raid on Pebble Island on the Falklands, where the Argentine Navy had taken over a grass airstrip map for FMA IA 58 Pucará light ground-attack aircraft and Beechcraft T-34 Mentors, which resulted in the destruction of several aircraft.
Air and Sea Battles
Refer to the Battle of San Carlos (1982).
At sea, the limitations of the British ships’ anti-aircraft defences were demonstrated in the sinking of HMS Ardent on 21 May, HMS Antelope (on 24 May when attempts to defuse bombs failed), and the loss of the cargo of helicopters, runway-building equipment and tents on MV Atlantic Conveyor (struck by two AM39 Exocets) on 25 May. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor as well as their maintenance equipment and facilities was a severe blow from a logistical perspective.
Also lost on 25 May was HMS Coventry, a sister to Sheffield, whilst in company with HMS Broadsword after being ordered to act as a decoy to draw away Argentine aircraft from other ships at San Carlos Bay. HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were moderately damaged. However, many British ships escaped being sunk because of limitations imposed by circumstances on Argentine pilots. To avoid the highest concentration of British air defences, Argentine pilots released bombs at very low altitude, and hence those bomb fuzes did not have sufficient time to arm before impact. The low release of the retarded bombs (some of which the British had sold to the Argentines years earlier) meant that many never exploded, as there was insufficient time in the air for them to arm themselves. The pilots would have been aware of this – but due to the high concentration required to avoid SAMs, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and British Sea Harriers, many failed to climb to the necessary release point. The Argentine forces solved the problem by fitting improvised retarding devices, allowing the pilots to effectively employ low-level bombing attacks on 08 June.
In his autobiographical account of the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward blamed the BBC World Service for disclosing information that led the Argentines to change the retarding devices on the bombs. The World Service reported the lack of detonations after receiving a briefing on the matter from a Ministry of Defence official. He describes the BBC as being more concerned with being “fearless seekers after truth” than with the lives of British servicemen. Colonel ‘H’. Jones levelled similar accusations against the BBC after they disclosed the impending British attack on Goose Green by 2 Para.
Thirteen bombs hit British ships without detonating. Lord Craig, the retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: “Six better fuses [sic] and we would have lost” although Ardent and Antelope were both lost despite the failure of bombs to explode, and Argonaut was out of action. The fuzes were functioning correctly, and the bombs were simply released from too low an altitude. The Argentines lost 22 aircraft in the attacks.
On 30 May, two Super Étendards, one carrying Argentina’s last remaining Exocet, escorted by four A-4C Skyhawks each with two 500lb bombs, took off to attack Invincible. Argentine intelligence had sought to determine the position of the carriers from analysis of aircraft flight routes from the task force to the islands. However, the British had a standing order that all aircraft conduct a low level transit when leaving or returning to the carriers to disguise their position. This tactic compromised the Argentine attack, which focused on a group of escorts 40 miles south of the main body of ships. Two of the attacking Skyhawks were shot down by a Sea Dart fired by HMS Exeter, with HMS Avenger claiming to have shot down the missile with her 4.5″ gun (although this claim is disputed). No damage was caused to any British vessels. During the war Argentina claimed to have damaged the ship and continues to do so to this day, although no evidence of any such damage has been produced or uncovered
San Carlo – Bomb Alley
Refer to Operation Sutton (1982).
During the night of 21 May, the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp (Commodore, Amphibious Warfare – COMAW) mounted Operation Sutton, the amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water, on the northwestern coast of East Falkland facing onto Falkland Sound. The bay, known as Bomb Alley by British forces, was the scene of repeated air attacks by low-flying Argentine jets.
The 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade were put ashore as follows: 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para) from the RORO ferry Norland and 40 Commando Royal Marines from the amphibious ship HMS Fearless were landed at San Carlos (Blue Beach), 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 Para) from the amphibious ship HMS Intrepid was landed at Port San Carlos (Green Beach) and 45 Commando from RFA Stromness was landed at Ajax Bay (Red Beach). Notably, the waves of eight LCUs and eight LCVPs were led by Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who had commanded the Falklands detachment NP8901 from March 1978 to 1979. 42 Commando on the ocean liner SS Canberra was a tactical reserve. Units from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, etc. and armoured reconnaissance vehicles were also put ashore with the landing craft, the Round Table class LSL and mexeflote barges. Rapier missile launchers were carried as underslung loads of Sea Kings for rapid deployment.
By dawn the next day, they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations. From there, Brigadier Julian Thompson’s plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Port Stanley. Now, with the British troops on the ground, the South Air Force (Argentina) began the night bombing campaign against them using Canberra bomber planes until the last day of the war (14 June).
Refer to the Battle of Goose Green (1982).
From early on 27 May until 28 May 2 Para (approximately 500 men), with naval gunfire support from HMS Arrow and artillery support from 8 Commando Battery, Royal Artillery, approached and attacked Darwin and Goose Green, which was held by the Argentine 12th Infantry Regiment. After a tough struggle that lasted all night and into the next day, the British won the battle; in all, 17 British and 47 Argentine soldiers were killed. A total of 961 Argentine troops (including 202 Argentine Air Force personnel of the Condor airfield) were taken prisoner.
The BBC announced the taking of Goose Green on the BBC World Service before it had actually happened. It was during this attack that Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones, the commanding officer of 2 Para, was killed at the head of his battalion while charging into the well-prepared Argentine positions. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
With the sizeable Argentine force at Goose Green out of the way, British forces were now able to break out of the San Carlos beachhead. On 27 May, men of 45 Cdo and 3 Para started a loaded march across East Falkland towards the coastal settlement of Teal Inlet.
Special Forces on Mount Kent
Refer to the Assault on Mount Kent (1982).
Meanwhile, 42 Commando prepared to move by helicopter to Mount Kent. Unknown to senior British officers, the Argentine generals were determined to tie down the British troops in the Mount Kent area, and on 27 and 28 May they sent transport aircraft loaded with Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles and commandos (602nd Commando Company and 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron) to Stanley. This operation was known as Autoimpuesta (“Self-determination initiative”).
For the next week, the SAS and the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC) of 3 Commando Brigade waged intense patrol battles with patrols of the volunteers’ 602nd Commando Company under Major Aldo Rico, normally second in Command of the 22nd Mountain Infantry Regiment. Throughout 30 May, Royal Air Force Harriers were active over Mount Kent. One of them, Harrier XZ963, flown by Squadron Leader Jerry Pook – in responding to a call for help from D Squadron, attacked Mount Kent’s eastern lower slopes, and that led to its loss through small-arms fire. Pook was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 31 May, the M&AWC defeated Argentine Special Forces at the skirmish at Top Malo House. A 13-strong Argentine Army Commando detachment (Captain José Vercesi’s 1st Assault Section, 602nd Commando Company) found itself trapped in a small shepherd’s house at Top Malo. The Argentine commandos fired from windows and doorways and then took refuge in a stream bed 200 metres (700 ft) from the burning house. Completely surrounded, they fought 19 M&AWC marines under Captain Rod Boswell for 45 minutes until, with their ammunition almost exhausted, they elected to surrender.
Three Cadre members were badly wounded. On the Argentine side, there were two dead, including Lieutenant Ernesto Espinoza and Sergeant Mateo Sbert (who were posthumously decorated for their bravery). Only five Argentines were left unscathed. As the British mopped up Top Malo House, Lieutenant Fraser Haddow’s M&AWC patrol came down from Malo Hill, brandishing a large Union Flag. One wounded Argentine soldier, Lieutenant Horacio Losito, commented that their escape route would have taken them through Haddow’s position.
601st Commando tried to move forward to rescue 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain. Spotted by 42 Commando, they were engaged with L16 81mm mortars and forced to withdraw to Two Sisters mountain. The leader of 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain realised his position had become untenable and after conferring with fellow officers ordered a withdrawal.
The Argentine operation also saw the extensive use of helicopter support to position and extract patrols; the 601st Combat Aviation Battalion also suffered casualties. At about 11:00 am on 30 May, an Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma helicopter was brought down by a shoulder-launched FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS in the vicinity of Mount Kent. Six Argentine National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight more wounded in the crash.
As Brigadier Thompson commented, “It was fortunate that I had ignored the views expressed by Northwood HQ that reconnaissance of Mount Kent before insertion of 42 Commando was superfluous. Had D Squadron not been there, the Argentine Special Forces would have caught the Commando before de-planing and, in the darkness and confusion on a strange landing zone, inflicted heavy casualties on men and helicopters.”
Bluff Cove and Fitzroy
Refer to Bluff Cove Air Attacks (1982).
By 01 June, with the arrival of a further 5,000 British troops of the 5th Infantry Brigade, the new British divisional commander, Major General Jeremy 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 56. Of the dead, 32 were from the Welsh Guards on RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram on 08 June. According to Surgeon-Commander Rick Jolly of the Falklands Field Hospital, more than 150 men suffered burns and injuries of some kind in the attack, including Simon Weston.
The Guards were sent to support an advance along the southern approach to Stanley. On 2 June, a small advance party of 2 Para moved to Swan Inlet house in a number of Army Westland Scout helicopters. Telephoning ahead to Fitzroy, they discovered that the area was clear of Argentines and (exceeding their authority) commandeered the one remaining RAF Chinook helicopter to frantically ferry another contingent of 2 Para ahead to Fitzroy (a settlement on Port Pleasant) and Bluff Cove (a settlement on Port Fitzroy).
This uncoordinated advance caused great difficulties in planning for the commanders of the combined operation, as they now found themselves with 30 miles (48 km) of indefensible positions, strung along 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 02 June, whilst the Scots Guards and the second half of the Welsh Guards were to be ferried from San Carlos Water in the Landing Ship Logistics (LSL) Sir Tristram and the landing platform dock (LPD) Intrepid on the night of 5 June. 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, after which Sir Tristram would be left to unload using a Mexeflote (a powered raft) for as long as it took to finish.
Political pressure from above to not risk the LPD forced Commodore Michael Clapp to alter this plan. Two lower-value LSLs would be sent, but with no suitable beaches to land on, Intrepid’s landing craft would need to accompany them to unload. A complicated operation across several nights with Intrepid and her sister ship Fearless sailing half-way to dispatch their craft was devised.
The attempted overland march by half the Welsh Guards failed, possibly as they refused to march light and attempted to carry their equipment. They returned to San Carlos and landed directly at Bluff Cove when Fearless dispatched her landing craft. Sir Tristram sailed on the night of 06 June and was joined by Sir Galahad at dawn on 07 June. Anchored 1,200 feet (370 m) apart in Port Pleasant, the landing ships were near Fitzroy, the designated landing point.
The landing craft should have been able to unload the ships to that point 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 that his troops should be ferried the far longer distance directly to Port Fitzroy/Bluff Cove. The alternative was for the infantrymen to march via the recently repaired Bluff Cove bridge (destroyed by retreating Argentine combat engineers) to their destination, a journey of around seven miles (11 km).
On Sir Galahad’s stern ramp there was an argument about what to do. The officers on board were told that they could not sail to Bluff Cove that day. They were told that they had to get their men off ship and onto the beach as soon as possible as the ships were vulnerable to enemy aircraft. It would take 20 minutes to transport the men to shore using the LCU and Mexeflote. They would then have the choice of walking the seven miles to Bluff Cove or wait until dark to sail there. The officers on board said that they would remain on board until dark and then sail. They refused to take their men off the ship. They possibly doubted that the bridge had been repaired due to the presence on board Sir Galahad of the Royal Engineer Troop whose job it was to repair the bridge. The Welsh Guards were keen to rejoin the rest of their Battalion, who were potentially facing the enemy without their support. They had also not seen any enemy aircraft since landing at San Carlos and may have been overconfident in the air defences. Ewen Southby-Tailyour gave a direct order for the men to leave the ship and go to the beach; the order was ignored.
The longer journey time of the landing craft taking the troops directly to Bluff Cove and the squabbling over how the landing was to be performed caused an enormous delay in unloading. This had disastrous consequences. Without escorts, having not yet established their air defence, and still almost fully laden, the two LSLs in Port Pleasant were sitting targets for two waves of Argentine 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.
British casualties were 48 killed and 115 wounded. Three Argentine pilots were also killed. The air strike delayed the scheduled British ground attack on Stanley by two days. Argentine General Mario Menéndez, commander of Argentine forces in the Falklands, was told that 900 British soldiers had died. He expected that the losses would cause enemy morale to drop and the British assault to stall.
Fall of Stanley
Refer to the Argentine Surrender in the Falklands War (1982), Battle of Mount Harriet (1982), Battle of Two Sister (1982), Battle of Mount Longdon (1982), Battle of Wireless Ridge (1982), and Battle of Mount Tumbledown (1982).
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 attacked in the Battle of Mount Harriet, Battle of Two Sisters, and Battle of Mount Longdon. Mount Harriet was taken at a cost of 2 British and 18 Argentine soldiers. At Two Sisters, the British faced both enemy resistance and friendly fire, but managed to capture their objectives. The toughest battle was at Mount Longdon. British forces were bogged down by rifle, mortar, machine gun, artillery fire, sniper fire, and ambushes. Despite this, the British continued their advance.
During this battle, 13 were killed when HMS Glamorgan, straying too close to shore while returning from the gun line, was struck by an improvised trailer-based Exocet MM38 launcher taken from the destroyer ARA Seguí by Argentine Navy technicians. On the same day, Sergeant Ian McKay of 4 Platoon, B Company, 3 Para died in a grenade attack on an Argentine bunker, which earned him a posthumous Victoria Cross. After a night of fierce fighting, all objectives were secured. Both sides suffered heavy losses.
The second phase of attacks began on the night of 13 June, and the momentum of the initial assault was maintained. 2 Para, with light armour support from the Blues and Royals, captured Wireless Ridge, with the loss of 3 British and 25 Argentine lives, and the 2nd battalion, Scots Guards captured Mount Tumbledown at the Battle of Mount Tumbledown, which cost 10 British and 30 Argentine lives.
With the last natural defence line at Mount Tumbledown breached, the Argentine town defences of Stanley began to falter. In the morning gloom, one company commander got lost and his junior officers became despondent. Private Santiago Carrizo of the 3rd Regiment described how a platoon commander ordered them to take up positions in the houses and “if a Kelper resists, shoot him”, but the entire company did nothing of the kind.
A ceasefire was declared on 14 June and the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Brigade General Mario Menéndez, surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore the same day.
Recapture of South Sandwich Islands
Refer to Operation Keyhole (1982).
On 20 June, the British retook the South Sandwich Islands, which involved accepting the surrender of the Southern Thule Garrison at the Corbeta Uruguay base, and declared hostilities over. Argentina had established Corbeta Uruguay in 1976, but prior to 1982 the United Kingdom had contested the existence of the Argentine base only through diplomatic channels.
Position of Third-Party Countries
The UK received political support from member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand withdrew their diplomats from Buenos Aires.
The New Zealand government expelled the Argentine ambassador following the invasion. The Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, was in London when the war broke out and in an opinion piece published in The Times he said: “The military rulers of Argentina must not be appeased … New Zealand will back Britain all the way.” Broadcasting on the BBC World Service, he told the Falkland Islanders: “This is Rob Muldoon. We are thinking of you and we are giving our full and total support to the British Government in its endeavours to rectify this situation and get rid of the people who have invaded your country.” On 20 May 1982, he announced that New Zealand would make HMNZS Canterbury, a Leander-class frigate, available for use where the British thought fit to release a Royal Navy vessel for the Falklands. In the House of Commons afterwards, Margaret Thatcher said: “…the New Zealand Government and people have been absolutely magnificent in their support for this country [and] the Falkland Islanders, for the rule of liberty and of law”.
The French president, François Mitterrand, declared an embargo on French arms sales and assistance to Argentina. In addition, France allowed UK aircraft and warships use of its port and airfield facilities at Dakar in Senegal and France provided dissimilar aircraft training so that Harrier pilots could train against the French aircraft used by Argentina. French intelligence also cooperated with Britain to prevent Argentina from obtaining more Exocet missiles on the international market. In a 2002 interview, and in reference to this support, John Nott, the then British Defence Secretary, had described France as Britain’s ‘greatest ally’. In 2012, it came to light that while this support was taking place, a French technical team, employed by Dassault and already in Argentina, remained there throughout the war despite the presidential decree. The team had provided material support to the Argentines, identifying and fixing faults in Exocet missile launchers. John Nott said he had known the French team was there but said its work was thought not to be of any importance. An adviser to the then French government denied any knowledge at the time that the technical team was there. The French intelligence department DGSE did know the team was there as they had an informant in the team but decried any assistance the team gave: “It’s bordering on an act of treason, or disobedience to an embargo”. John Nott, when asked if he felt let down by the French said “If you’re asking me: ‘Are the French duplicitous people?’ the answer is: ‘Of course they are, and they always have been.”.
Declassified cables show the US felt that Thatcher had not considered diplomatic options, and also feared that a protracted conflict could draw the Soviet Union on Argentina’s side, and initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict through “shuttle diplomacy”. However, when Argentina refused the US peace overtures, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both houses of the US Congress passed resolutions supporting the US action siding with the United Kingdom.
The US provided the United Kingdom with 200 Sidewinder missiles for use by the Harrier jets, eight Stinger surface to air missile systems, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and mortar bombs. On Ascension Island, the underground fuel tanks were empty when the British Task Force arrived in mid-April 1982 and the leading assault ship, HMS Fearless, did not have enough fuel to dock when it arrived off Ascension. The US diverted a supertanker to replenish the fuel tanks of ships there at anchor as well as for storage tanks on the island – approximately 2 million gallons of fuel was supplied. The Pentagon further committed to providing additional support in the event of the war dragging on into the southern hemisphere winter: in this scenario the US committed to providing tanker aircraft to support Royal Air Force missions in Europe, releasing RAF aircraft to support operations over the Falklands.
The United States allowed the United Kingdom to use US communication satellites to allow secure communications between submarines in the Southern Ocean and Naval HQ in Britain. The US also passed on satellite imagery (which it publicly denied) and weather forecast data to the British Fleet.
President Ronald Reagan approved the Royal Navy’s request to borrow a Sea Harrier-capable amphibious Iwo Jima class assault ship (the USS Guam (LPH-9) was earmarked for this)) if the British lost an aircraft carrier. The US Navy developed a plan to help the British man the ship with American military contractors, likely retired sailors with knowledge of the ship’s systems.
Other OAS Members
- Argentina itself was politically backed by a majority of countries in Latin America (though, notably, not Chile).
- Several members of the Non-Aligned Movement also backed Argentina’s position; notably, Cuba and Nicaragua led a diplomatic effort to rally non-aligned countries from Africa and Asia towards Argentina’s position.
- This initiative came as a surprise to Western observers, as Cuba had no diplomatic relations with Argentina’s right-leaning military junta.
- British diplomats complained that Cuba had “cynically exploited” the crisis to pursue its normalisation of relations with Latin American countries; Argentina eventually resumed relations with Cuba in 1983, followed by Brazil in 1986.
- Peru attempted to purchase 12 Exocet missiles from France to be delivered to Argentina, in a failed secret operation.
- Peru also openly sent “Mirages, pilots and missiles” to Argentina during the war.
- Peru had earlier transferred ten Hercules transport planes to Argentina soon after the British Task Force had set sail in April 1982.
- Nick van der Bijl records that, after the Argentine defeat at Goose Green, Venezuela and Guatemala offered to send paratroopers to the Falklands.
- At the outbreak of the war, Chile was in negotiations with Argentina for control over the Beagle Channel and feared Argentina would use similar tactics to secure the channel and as such, refused to support the Argentine position during the war.
- As a consequence, Chile also gave support to the UK in the form of intelligence about the Argentine military and early warning intelligence on Argentine air movements.
- Throughout the war, Argentina was afraid of a Chilean military intervention in Patagonia and kept some of its best mountain regiments away from the Falklands near the Chilean border as a precaution.
- The Chilean government also allowed the United Kingdom to requisition the refuelling vessel RFA Tidepool, which Chile had recently purchased and which had arrived at Arica in Chile on 04 April.
- The ship left port soon afterwards, bound for Ascension Island through the Panama Canal and stopping at Curaçao en route.
The Soviet Union described the Falklands as “a disputed territory,” recognising Argentina’s ambitions over the islands and called for restraint on all sides. They were adamant to veto any resolution in the UN Security Council if tabled by the United Kingdom. The Soviet Union did mount some clandestine logistics operations in favour of the Argentinians. Soviet media frequently criticised the UK and US during the war. Days after the invasion by the Argentinian forces, the Soviets launched additional intelligence satellites into low Earth orbit covering the southern Atlantic Ocean. There are conflicting reports on whether Soviet ocean surveillance data might have played a role in the sinking of HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry.
- The EEC provided economic support by imposing economic sanctions on Argentina.
- According to the book Operation Israel, advisers from Israel Aerospace Industries were already in Argentina and continued their work during the conflict.
- The book also claims that Israel sold weapons and drop tanks to Argentina in a secret operation via Peru.
- The Sierra Leone government allowed British task force ships to refuel at Freetown.
- VC10 transport aircraft landed at Banjul in The Gambia while flying between the UK and Ascension Island.
- Through Libya, under Muammar Gaddafi, Argentina received 20 launchers and 60 SA-7 missiles (which Argentina later described as “not effective”), as well as machine guns, mortars and mines; all in all, the load of four trips of two Boeing 707s of the AAF, refuelled in Recife with the knowledge and consent of the Brazilian government.
- The UK had terminated the Simonstown Agreement in 1975, thereby effectively denying the Royal Navy access to ports in South Africa, and instead forcing them to use Ascension Island as a staging post.
In total, 907 were killed during the 74 days of the conflict:
- Argentina: 649:
- Ejército Argentino (Army): 194 (16 officers, 35 non-commissioned officers (NCO) and 143 conscript privates).
- Armada de la República Argentina (Navy): 341 (including 321 in ARA General Belgrano and 4 naval aviators).
- IMARA (Marines): 34.
- Fuerza Aérea Argentina (Air Force): 55 (including 31 pilots and 14 ground crew).
- Gendarmería Nacional Argentina (Border Guard): 7.
- Prefectura Naval Argentina (Coast Guard): 2.
- Civilians: 16.
- United Kingdom: A total of 255 British servicemen and 3 female Falkland Island civilians were killed during the Falklands War:
- Royal Navy: 86 + 2 Hong Kong laundrymen (see below).
- Royal Marines: 27 (2 officers, 14 NCOs and 11 marines).
- Royal Fleet Auxiliary: 4 + 6 Hong Kong sailors.
- Merchant Navy: 6.
- British Army: 123 (7 officers, 40 NCOs and 76 privates).
- Royal Air Force: 1 (1 officer).
- Falkland Islands civilians: 3 women killed by friendly fire.
Of the 86 Royal Navy personnel, 22 were lost in HMS Ardent, 19 + 1 lost in HMS Sheffield, 19 + 1 lost in HMS Coventry and 13 lost in HMS Glamorgan. Fourteen naval cooks were among the dead, the largest number from any one branch in the Royal Navy.
Thirty-three of the British Army’s dead came from the Welsh Guards (32 of whom died on the RFA Sir Galahad in the Bluff Cove Air Attacks), 21 from the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, 18 from the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, 19 from the Special Air Service, 3 from Royal Signals and 8 from each of the Scots Guards and Royal Engineers. The 1st battalion/7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles lost one man.
There were 1,188 Argentine and 777 British injured or wounded.
Red Cross Box
Before British offensive operations began, the British and Argentine governments agreed to establish an area on the high seas where both sides could station hospital ships without fear of attack by the other side. This area, a circle 20 nautical miles in diameter, was referred to as the Red Cross Box (48°30′S 53°45′W), about 45 miles (72 km) north of Falkland Sound. Ultimately, the British stationed four ships (HMS Hydra, HMS Hecla and HMS Herald and the primary hospital ship SS Uganda) within the box, while the Argentines stationed three (ARA Almirante Irízar, ARA Bahía Paraíso and Puerto Deseado).
The hospital ships were non-warships converted to serve as hospital ships. The three British naval vessels were survey vessels and Uganda was a passenger liner. Almirante Irizar was an icebreaker, Bahia Paraiso was an Antarctic supply transport and Puerto Deseado was a survey ship. The British and Argentine vessels operating within the Box were in radio contact and there was some transfer of patients between the hospital ships. For example, the Uganda on four occasions transferred patients to an Argentine hospital ship. Hydra worked with Hecla and Herald to take casualties from Uganda to Montevideo, Uruguay, where a fleet of Uruguayan ambulances met them. RAF VC10 aircraft then flew the casualties to the UK for transfer to the Princess Alexandra Hospital at RAF Wroughton, near Swindon.
Throughout the conflict officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) conducted inspections to verify that all concerned were abiding by the rules of the Geneva Conventions. Argentine naval officers also inspected the British casualty ferries in the estuary of the River Plate.
Aftermath and Legacy
Refer to the Aftermath of the Falklands War.
This brief war brought many consequences for all the parties involved, besides the considerable casualty rate and large materiel loss, especially of shipping and aircraft, relative to the deployed military strengths of the opposing sides.
In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity increased. The success of the Falklands campaign was widely regarded as a factor in the turnaround in fortunes for the Conservative government, who had been trailing behind the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the opinion polls for months before the conflict began, but after the success in the Falklands the Conservatives returned to the top of the opinion polls by a wide margin and went on to win the following year’s general election by a landslide. Subsequently, Defence Secretary Nott’s proposed cuts to the Royal Navy were abandoned.
The islanders subsequently had full British citizenship restored in 1983, their lifestyle was improved by investments the UK made after the war and by the liberalisation of economic measures that had been stalled through fear of angering Argentina. In 1985, a new constitution was enacted promoting self-government, which has continued to devolve power to the islanders.
In Argentina, defeat in the Falklands War meant that a possible war with Chile was avoided. Further, Argentina returned to a democratic government in the 1983 general election, the first free general election since 1973. It also had a major social impact, destroying the military’s image as the “moral reserve of the nation” that they had maintained through most of the 20th century.
A detailed study of 21,432 British veterans of the war commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence found that between 1982 and 2012 only 95 had died from “intentional self-harm and events of undetermined intent (suicides and open verdict deaths)”, a proportion lower than would be expected within the general population over the same period.
Militarily, the Falklands conflict remains one of the largest air-naval combat operations between modern forces since the end of the Second World War. As such, it has been the subject of intense study by military analysts and historians. The most significant “lessons learned” include: the vulnerability of surface ships to anti-ship missiles and submarines, the challenges of co-ordinating logistical support for a long-distance projection of power, and reconfirmation of the role of tactical air power, including the use of helicopters.
In 1986, the BBC broadcast the Horizon programme, In the Wake of HMS Sheffield, which discussed lessons learned from the conflict, and measures since taken to implement them, such as incorporating greater stealth capabilities and providing better close-in weapon systems for the Fleet. The principal British military responses to the Falklands War were the measures adopted in the December 1982 Defence White Paper.
There are several memorials on the Falkland Islands themselves, the most notable of which is the 1982 Liberation Memorial, unveiled in 1984 on the second anniversary of the end of the war. It lists the names of the 255 British military personnel who died during the war and is located in front of the Secretariat Building in Stanley, overlooking Stanley Harbour. The Memorial was funded entirely by the Islanders and is inscribed with the words “In Memory of Those Who Liberated Us”.
In addition to memorials on the islands, there is a memorial in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London to the British war dead. The Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne College was opened in March 2000 as a commemoration of the lives and sacrifice of all those who served and died in the South Atlantic in 1982. In Argentina, there is a memorial at Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires, another one in Rosario, and a third one in Ushuaia.
During the war, British dead were put into plastic body bags and buried in mass graves. After the war, the bodies were recovered; 14 were reburied at Blue Beach Military Cemetery and 64 were returned to the UK.
Many of the Argentine dead are buried in the Argentine Military Cemetery west of the Darwin Settlement. The government of Argentina declined an offer by the UK to have the bodies repatriated to Argentina.
Refer to Land Mines in the Falkland Islands.
In 2011 there were 113 uncleared minefields plus unexploded ordnance (UXOs) covering an area of 13 km2 (3,200 acres) on the Falkland Islands. Of this area, 5.5 km2 (1,400 acres) on the Murrell Peninsula were classified as being “suspected minefields” – the area had been heavily pastured for 25 years without incident. It was estimated that these minefields had 20,000 anti-personnel mines and 5,000 anti-tank mines.
The UK reported six military personnel injured by mines or UXO in 1982, then two more in 1983. Most military accidents took place in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, while clearing minefields or trying to establish the extent of minefield perimeters, particularly where no detailed records existed. No civilian mine casualties have ever occurred on the islands, and no human casualties from mines or UXO have been reported since 1984.
On 09 May 2008, the Falkland Islands Government asserted that the minefields, which represent 0.1% of the available farmland on the islands “present no long term social or economic difficulties for the Falklands,” and that the impact of clearing the mines would cause more problems than containing them. However, the British Government, in accordance with its commitments under the Mine Ban Treaty had a commitment to clear the mines by the end of 2019.
In May 2012, it was announced that 3.7 km2 (1.4 sq mi) of Stanley Common (which lies between the Stanley – Mount Pleasant road and the shoreline) was made safe and had been opened to the public, opening up a 3 km (1.9 mile) stretch of coastline and a further two kilometres of shoreline along Mullet’s Creek.
In November 2020, it was declared that the Falkland islands were now free of all landmines. A celebration of the event took place on the weekend of 14 November where the final landmine was detonated.
Press and Publicity
Selected war correspondents were regularly flown to Port Stanley in military aircraft to report on the war. Back in Buenos Aires, newspapers and magazines reported on “the heroic actions of the largely conscript army and its successes”.
Officers from the intelligence services were attached to the newspapers and ‘leaked’ information confirming the official communiqués from the government. The glossy magazines Gente and Siete Días swelled to 60 pages with colour photographs of British warships in flames – many of them faked – and bogus eyewitness reports of the Argentine commandos’ guerrilla war on South Georgia (6 May) and an already dead Pucará pilot’s attack on HMS Hermes (Lieutenant Daniel Antonio Jukic had been killed at Goose Green during a British air strike on 01 May). Most of the faked photos actually came from the tabloid press. One of the best remembered headlines was “Estamos ganando” (“We’re winning”) from the magazine Gente, that would later use variations of it.
The Argentine troops on the Falkland Islands could read Gaceta Argentina – a newspaper intended to boost morale among the servicemen. Some of its untruths could easily be unveiled by the soldiers who recovered corpses.
The Malvinas cause united the Argentines in a patriotic atmosphere that protected the junta from critics, and even opponents of the military government supported Galtieri; Ernesto Sabato said: “In Argentina, it is not a military dictatorship that is fighting. It is the whole people, her women, her children, her old people, regardless of their political persuasion. Opponents to the regime like myself are fighting for our dignity, fighting to extricate the last vestiges of colonialism. Don’t be mistaken, Europe, it is not a dictatorship that is fighting for the Malvinas; it is the whole nation”.
In the Argentine press, false reports that the HMS Hermes was sunk and HMS Invincible had been damaged were circulated after the weekly magazines Gente and La Semana had received information of naval action from an air force officer in the president’s office. On 30 April 1982 the Argentine magazine Tal Cual showed Prime Minister Thatcher with an eyepatch and the text: Pirate, witch and assassin. Guilty! Three British reporters sent to Argentina to cover the war from the Argentine perspective were jailed until the end of the war. The Madres de Plaza de Mayo were even exposed to death threats from ordinary people.
Seventeen newspaper reporters, two photographers, two radio reporters and three television reporters with five technicians sailed with the Task Force to the war. The Newspaper Publishers’ Association selected them from among 160 applicants, excluding foreign media. The hasty selection resulted in the inclusion of two journalists among the war reporters who were interested only in Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Andrew, who was serving in the conflict. The Prince flew a helicopter on multiple missions, including Anti-Surface Warfare, Exocet missile decoy and casualty evacuation.
Merchant vessels had the civilian Inmarsat uplink, which enabled written telex and voice report transmissions via satellite. SS Canberra had a facsimile machine that was used to upload 202 pictures from the South Atlantic over the course of the war. The Royal Navy leased bandwidth on the US Defence Satellite Communications System for worldwide communications. Television demands a thousand times the data rate of telephone, but the Ministry of Defence was unsuccessful in convincing the US to allocate more bandwidth.
TV producers suspected that the enquiry was half-hearted; since the Vietnam War television pictures of casualties and traumatised soldiers were recognised as having negative propaganda value. However, the technology only allowed uploading a single frame per 20 minutes – and only if the military satellites were allocated 100% to television transmissions. Videotapes were shipped to Ascension Island, where a broadband satellite uplink was available, resulting in TV coverage being delayed by three weeks.
The press was very dependent on the Royal Navy, and was censored on site. Many reporters in the UK knew more about the war than those with the Task Force. Ministry of Defence press briefings in London were characterised by the restrained dictation-speed delivery of its spokesman, Ian McDonald.
The Royal Navy expected Fleet Street to conduct a Second World War-style positive news campaign but the majority of the British media, especially the BBC, reported the war in a neutral fashion. These reporters referred to “the British troops” and “the Argentinian troops” instead of “our lads” and the “Argies”. The two main tabloid papers presented opposing viewpoints: The Daily Mirror was decidedly anti-war, whilst The Sun became well known for headlines such as “Stick It Up Your Junta!,” which, along with the reporting in other tabloids, led to accusations of xenophobia and jingoism. The Sun was criticised for its “Gotcha” headline following the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano.
Refer to the Cultural Impact of the Falklands War.
There were wide-ranging influences on popular culture in both the UK and Argentina, from the immediate post-war period to the present. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges described the war as “a fight between two bald men over a comb”. The words yomp and Exocet entered the British vernacular as a result of the war. The Falklands War also provided material for theatre, film and TV drama and influenced the output of musicians. In Argentina, the military government banned the broadcasting of music in the English language, giving way to the rise of local rock musicians.