The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas/Guerra del Atlántico Sur), also called the Falklands Conflict/Crisis, was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom (UK) over the disputed Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Falkland Islands consist of two large and many small islands in the South Atlantic Ocean east of Argentina; their name and sovereignty over them is disputed.
The Falklands War started on Friday, 2 April 1982, with the Argentine invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Britain launched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Argentine Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault. The conflict ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, and the islands remained under British control. The war lasted 74 days. It resulted in the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and the deaths of three civilian Falkland Islanders. It is the most recent external conflict to be fought by the UK without any allied states and the only external Argentine war since the 1880s.
The conflict was the result of a protracted historical confrontation regarding the sovereignty of the islands. Neither state officially declared war and the fighting was largely limited to the territories under dispute and the South Atlantic. The initial invasion was characterised by Argentina as the re-occupation of its own territory, and by the UK as an invasion of a British dependent territory. As of 2011, and as it has since the 19th century, Argentina shows no sign of relinquishing its claim. The claim was added to the Argentine constitution after its reformation in 1994.
The political effects of the war were strong in both countries. A wave of patriotic sentiment swept through both: the Argentine loss prompted even larger protests against the ruling military government, which hastened its downfall; in the United Kingdom, the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was bolstered. It helped Thatcher’s government to 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, films, and songs. Over time, 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.
Relations between Argentina and UK were restored in 1989 under the umbrella formula which states that the islands’ sovereignty dispute would remain aside.
Lead-up to the conflict
Main article: Events leading to the Falklands War
In the period leading up to the war, and especially following the transfer of power between military dictators General Jorge Rafael Videla and General Roberto Eduardo Viola in late-March 1981, Argentina had been in the midst of a devastating economic crisis 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), 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. In doing so the Galtieri government hoped to mobilise Argentines’ long-standing patriotic feelings towards the islands and thus divert public attention from the country’s chronic economic problems and the regime’s ongoing human rights violations. Such action would also bolster its dwindling legitimacy. The newspaper La Prensa speculated in a step-by-step plan beginning with cutting off supplies to the Islands, ending in direct actions late 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 raised the Argentine flag at South Georgia, an act that would later be seen as the first offensive action in the war. 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.
Britain was initially taken by surprise by the Argentine attack on the South Atlantic islands, despite repeated warnings by Royal Navy captain Nicholas Barker and others. Barker believed that the intention expressed in Defence Secretary John Nott’s 1981 review to withdraw the Royal Navy ship HMS Endurance, Britain’s only naval presence in the South Atlantic, sent a signal to the Argentines that Britain was unwilling, and would soon be unable, to defend its territories and subjects in the Falklands.
Invasion by Argentina
Main articles: 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands and Invasion of South Georgia
On 2 April 1982, Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings of the Falkland Islands, following the civilian occupation of South Georgia on 19 March, before the Falklands War began. The invasion met a nominal defence organised by the Falkland Islands’ Governor Sir Rex Hunt giving command to Major Mike Norman of the Royal Marines, 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 to the invasion
Word of the invasion apparently first reached Britain via amateur radio.
The retaking of the Falkland Islands was considered extremely difficult: the main constraint was the disparity in deployable air cover. The British had 34 Harrier aircraft against approximately 122 serviceable jet fighters, of which about 50 were employed as air superiority fighters and the remainder as strike aircraft, in Argentina’s air forces during the war. The U.S. Navy considered a successful counter-invasion by the British to be ‘a military impossibility’.
The United States initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. However, when Argentina refused the U.S. peace overtures, U.S. 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 U.S. Congress passed resolutions supporting the U.S. action siding with the United Kingdom.
By mid-April, the Royal Air Force had set up an airbase at Wideawake 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 BAE Sea Harriers outside the British-imposed 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.
Position of third party countries
The United Kingdom received support from:
The United States provided political support voting for United Nations Security Council Resolution 502 requesting the departure of Argentine troops. They also discreetly provided the United Kingdom with military equipment ranging from submarine detectors to the latest missiles. After failed peace negotiations the USA publicly supported the UK.
France provided political support, voting for UN resolution 502. The French also provided dissimilar aircraft training allowing Harrier pilots to train against French aircraft used by Argentina. French and British intelligence also worked to prevent Argentina from obtaining more Exocets on the international market.
New Zealand sent a frigate to relieve a British ship in the Indian Ocean, thus assisting the Royal Navy to meet its commitments in the South Atlantic.
Chile gave support to Britain in the form of Intelligence about Argentine military and radar early warning.
Turkey, closely aligned to the UK in the NATO alliance, publicly supported the United Kingdom, staunchly denouncing the Argentine government.
The European Economic Community provided economic support by imposing economic sanctions on Argentina.
The Commonwealth of Nations publicly supported the United Kingdom.
Argentina received support from:
Peru and Venezuela sent aircraft spare parts.
Brazil leased two P-95 maritime patrol aircraft.
Israeli IAI advisors already in the country continued their work during the conflict.
Libya supplied Strela 2 missiles.
Spain provided political support by abstaining from UN Resolution 502, and voting for a cease-fire resolution but the resolution was vetoed by the United Kingdom and United States.
Recapture of South Georgia and the attack on the Santa Fe
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 the 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 the Santa Fe with its GPMG. The Wasp from Plymouth as well as two other Wasps launched from HMS Endurance fired AS-12 ASM antiship missiles at the submarine, scoring hits. Santa Fe was damaged badly enough to prevent her from submerging. The crew abandoned the submarine at the jetty at King Edward Point on South Georgia.
With the 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, 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!”
Operation Black Buck
On 1 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 mi) round trip dropping conventional bombs across the runway at Stanley and back to Ascension. The mission required repeated refuelling, and required several Victor 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. The raids did minimal damage to the runway and damage to radars was quickly repaired. Commonly dismissed as post-war propaganda, Argentine sources were originally the source of claims 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 however watered down when British officials made clear that there would be no strikes on air bases in Argentina.
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
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. 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 1 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 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 (piloted by Osvaldo Ardiles’ cousin José 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 air base. 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 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, 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 few RN Sea Harriers were considered too valuable by day to risk in night-time blockade operations, and their Blue Fox radar was not an effective look-down over land radar.
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 Etendards 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 mi) territorial limit to provide early warning of bombing raids on the British task force.
Sinking of ARA General Belgrano
Two separate 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 World War II vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano. The nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Belgrano on 2 May. Three hundred and twenty-three members of Belgrano’s crew died in the incident. Over 700 men were rescued from the open ocean despite cold seas and stormy weather. The losses from Belgrano totalled nearly half of the Argentine deaths in the Falklands conflict and the loss of the ARA General Belgrano hardened the stance of the Argentine government.
Regardless of controversies over 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 conventional submarine ARA San Luis, returned to port and did not leave again for the duration of hostilities. 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.
In a separate incident later that night, British forces engaged an Argentine patrol gunboat, the ARA Alferez Sobral. At the time, the Alferez Sobral was searching for the crew of the Argentine Air Force English Electric Canberra light bomber shot down on 1 May. Two Royal Navy Lynx helicopters fired four Sea Skua missiles against her. Badly damaged and with eight crew dead, the Sobral managed to return to Puerto Deseado two days later, but the Canberra’s crew were never found.
Sinking of HMS Sheffield
On 4 May, two days after the sinking of 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, Chapter One. Woodward was a former commanding officer of Sheffield.
The tempo of operations increased throughout the second half of May as United Nations attempts to mediate a peace were rejected by the British, who felt that any delay would make a campaign impractical in the South Atlantic storms. The destruction of Sheffield 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”.
Given the threat to the British fleet posed by the Etendard-Exocet combination, plans were made to use Special Air Service troops to attack the home base of the five Etendards at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego. The operation was code named “Mikado”. The aim was to destroy the missiles and the aircraft that carried them, and to kill the pilots in their quarters. Two plans were drafted and underwent preliminary rehearsal: a landing by approximately fifty-five SAS in two C-130 Hercules aircraft directly on the runway at Rio Grande; and infiltration of twenty-four SAS by inflatable boats brought within a few miles of the coast by submarine. Neither plan was implemented; the earlier airborne assault plan attracted considerable hostility from some members of the SAS, who considered the proposed raid a suicide mission. Ironically, the Rio Grande area would be defended by four full-strength battalions of Marine Infantry of the Argentine Marine Corps of the Argentine Navy, some of whose officers were trained in the UK by the SBS years earlier.
After the war, Argentine marine commanders admitted that they were waiting for some kind of landing by SAS forces but never expected a Hercules to land directly on their runways. However they would have tried to pursue British forces even into Chilean territory if they were attacked.
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 and dropped off the SAS team, before setting fire to his helicopter and surrendering to the Chilean authorities. The discovery of the burnt-out helicopter attracted considerable international attention at the time.
On 14 May the SAS carried out the raid on Pebble Island at the Falklands, where the Argentine Navy had taken over a grass airstrip for FMA IA 58 Pucará light ground attack aircraft and T-34 Mentors. The raid destroyed the aircraft there.
Main articles: Operation Sutton and Battle of San Carlos
During the night on 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 of the 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), 3 Para from the amphibious ship HMS Intrepid were landed at Port San Carlos (Green Beach) and 45 Commando from RFA Stromness were landed at Ajax Bay (Red Beach). Notably the waves of 8 LCUs and 8 LCVPs were led by Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour who had commanded the Falklands detachment only a year previously. 42 Commando on the ocean liner SS Canberra was a tactical reserve. Units from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers etc. and tanks 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 Thompson’s plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Port Stanley. Now, with the British troops on the ground, the Argentine Air Force began the night bombing campaign against them using Canberra bomber planes until the last day of the war (14 June).
At sea, the paucity of the British ships’ anti-aircraft defences was demonstrated in the sinking of HMS Ardent on 21 May, HMS Antelope on 24 May, and MV Atlantic Conveyor (struck by two AM39 Exocets) on 25 May along with a vital cargo of helicopters, runway-building equipment and tents. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor was a severe blow from a logistics perspective. Also lost on this day was HMS Coventry, a sister to HMS Sheffield, whilst in company with HMS Broadsword after being ordered to act as decoy to draw away Argentine aircraft from other ships at San Carlos Bay. HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were badly damaged. However, many British ships escaped terminal damage because of the Argentine pilots’ bombing tactics.
To avoid the highest concentration of British air defences, Argentine pilots released ordnance from very low altitude, and hence their bomb fuzes did not have sufficient time to arm before impact. The low release of the retarded bombs (some of which had been sold to the Argentines by the British years earlier) meant that many never exploded, as there was insufficient time in the air for them to arm themselves. A simple free-fall bomb will, during a low altitude release, impact almost directly below the aircraft which is then within the lethal fragmentation zone of the resulting explosion. A retarded bomb has a small parachute or air brake that opens to reduce the speed of the bomb to produce a safe horizontal separation between the two. The fuze for a retarded bomb requires a minimum time over which the retarder is open to ensure safe separation. The pilots would have been aware of this, but due to the high concentration levels required to avoid SAMs and AAA, as well as any British Sea Harriers, many failed to climb to the necessary release point. The problem was solved by the improvised fitting of retarding devices, allowing low-level bombing attacks as employed on 8 June.
In his autobiographical account of the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward blames the BBC World Service for these changes to 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. Jones had threatened to lead the prosecution of senior BBC officials for treason but was unable to do so since he was himself killed in action around Goose Green.
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 and we would have lost” although Ardent and Antelope were both lost despite the failure of bombs to explode. The fuzes were functioning correctly, and the bombs were simply released from too low an altitude. The Argentines lost 22 aircraft in the attacks.
Battle of Goose Green
From early on 27 May until 28 May, 2 Para, (approximately 500 men) with artillery support from 8 (Alma) 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. In total 961 Argentine troops (including 202 Argentine Air Force personnel of the Condor airfield) were taken prisoners.
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 sizable Argentine force at Goose Green out of the way, British forces were now able to break out of the San Carlos bridgehead. 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
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 May 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 Operation AUTOIMPUESTA (Self-Determination-Initiative).
For the next week, the Special Air Service (SAS) and Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre of 3 Commando Brigade waged intense patrol battles with patrols of the volunteers’ 602nd Commando Company under Major Aldo Rico, normally 2IC 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.
The Argentine Navy used their last AM39 Exocet missile attempting to attack HMS Invincible on 30 May. There are claims the missile struck, however the British have denied this, some citing that HMS Avenger shot it down.
On 31 May, the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC) defeated Argentine Special Forces at the Battle of 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 forty-five 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 decorated for their bravery). Only five Argentines were left unscathed. As the British mopped up Top Malo House, down from Malo Hill came Lieutenant Fraser Haddow’s M&AWC patrol, 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.
Major Mario Castagneto’s 601st Commandos tried to move forward on Kawasaki motorbikes and commandeered Land Rovers to rescue 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain. Spotted by 42 Commando of the Royal Marines, they were engaged with 81mm mortars and forced to withdraw to Two Sisters mountain. Captain Eduardo Villarruel 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 Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma helicopter was brought down by a shoulder-launched Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS in the vicinity of Mount Kent. Six National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight more wounded in the crash.
As Brigadier Julian Thompson commented, “It was fortunate that I had ignored the views expressed by Northwood 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 deplaning and, in the darkness and confusion on a strange landing zone, inflicted heavy casualties on men and helicopters.”
Bluff Cove and Fitzroy
Bluff Cove Air Attacks
By 1 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 8 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, famously, Simon Weston.
The Guards were sent to support a dashing 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 the area 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 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 miles (48 km) string of indefensible 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 2 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 Clapp to alter this plan. Two lower-value LSLs would be sent, but without suitable beaches on which to land, 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 were landed directly at Bluff Cove when Fearless dispatched her landing craft. Sir Tristram sailed on the night of 6 June and was joined by Sir Galahad at dawn on 7 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 disembarcation 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 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 they could not sail to Bluff Cove that day. They were told 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 to walk the 7 miles to Bluff Cove or wait until dark to sail there. The officers on board said 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 over confident 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 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. However, Argentine General Mario Menendez, 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
The road to Stanley
Battle of Mount Harriet
Battle of Mount Longdon
Battle of Wireless Ridge
Battle of Mount Tumbledown
Battle of Two Sisters
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 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 assault 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 this day, Sgt 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 night of 13 June saw the start of the second phase of attacks, in which the momentum of the initial assault was maintained. 2 Para with CVRT support from The Blues and Royals, captured Wireless Ridge at the Battle of Wireless Ridge, at a loss of 3 British and 25 Argentine dead, and the 2nd battalion, Scots Guards captured Mount Tumbledown at the Battle of Mount Tumbledown, which cost 10 British and 30 Argentines 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 cease fire 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.
Surrender of Corbeta Uruguay
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 to be 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.
In total 907 were killed during the 74 days of the conflict:
Argentina – 649 Ejército Argentino (Army) – 194 (16 officers, 35 NCOs and 143 conscript privates)
Armada de la República Argentina (Navy) – 341 (including 321 in 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
Civilian sailors – 16
United Kingdom – A total of 255 British servicemen and 3 female Falklands 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 + 4 Hong Kong laundrymen
Merchant Navy – 6 + 2 Hong Kong sailors
British Army – 123 (7 officers, 40 NCOs and 76 privates)
Royal Air Force – 1 (1 officer)
Falklands 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, 21 from the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, 18 from the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, 19 from the Special Air Service (SAS), 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 killed.
Two more British deaths may be attributed to Operation Corporate, bringing the total to 260:
Captain Brian Biddick from SS Uganda underwent an emergency operation on the voyage to the Falklands. Later he was repatriated by an RAF medical flight to the hospital at Wroughton where he died on 12 May.
Paul Mills from HMS Coventry suffered from complications from a skull fracture sustained in the sinking of his ship and died on 29 March 1983; he is buried in his home town of Swavesey.
There were 1,188 Argentine and 777 British non-fatal casualties.
Further information about the field hospitals and hospital ships is at Ajax Bay and List of hospitals and hospital ships of the Royal Navy. On the Argentine side beside the Military Hospital at Port Stanley, the Argentine Air Force Mobile Field Hospital was deployed at Comodoro Rivadavia.
Red Cross Box
Before the British attacked the Falklands, 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 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 Uganda), within the box, while the Argentinians stationed three (Almirante Irizar, Bahia Paraiso and Puerto Deseado).
The hospital ships were actually 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 British hospital ship S.S. Uganda on four occasions transferred patients to an Argentinian hospital ship. The British naval hospital ships operated as casualty ferries, carrying casualties from both sides from the Falklands to Uganda and operating a shuttle service between the Red Cross Box and Montevideo.
Throughout the conflict Red Cross officials conducted inspections to verify that all concerned were abiding by the rules of the Geneva Convention. Personnel of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC – carried out inspections, some transferring on 12 June to the British ships in a helicopter from the Argentine hospital ship. Argentine naval officers also inspected the British casualty ferries in the estuary of the River Plate.
British casualty evacuation
Hydra worked with Hecla (see and Herald, to take casualties from Uganda (see to Montevideo, Uruguay (see where a fleet of Uruguayan ambulances would meet them. RAF VC10 aircraft then flew the casualties to the UK for transfer to the Princess Alexandra Royal Air Force Hospital at RAF Wroughton, near Swindon.
As well as memorials on the islands, there is a memorial to the British war dead in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. There is a memorial at Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires for the Argentine war dead, 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 removed with 14 reburied at Blue Beach Military Cemetery and 64 returned to Britain. Argentine dead were reburied at the Argentine Military Cemetery west of the Darwin Settlement. The United Kingdom offered to send the bodies back to Argentina, but Argentina refused, knowing that the remains would ensure a continuing Argentine presence on the islands.
There are still 117 uncleared minefields on the Falkland Islands and UXOs are scattered all over the battle fields due to the soft peat ground. No human casualties from mines or UXO have been reported in the Falkland Islands since 1984, and no civilian mine casualties have ever occurred on the islands. The UK reported six military personnel were injured in 1982 and a further two injured in 1983. Most military accidents took place while clearing the minefields in the immediate aftermath of the 1982 conflict or in the process of trying to establish the extent of the minefield perimeters, particularly where no detailed records existed.
Main article: Aftermath of the Falklands War
This brief war brought many consequences for all the parties involved, besides the great loss of human life and materiel.
In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher won the time and support she required for her economic measures (which tackled inflation but sent unemployment to its highest postwar levels) to take effect, national pride received a big boost of confidence and assurance, the Royal Navy proved its value once more. The success of the Falklands campaign was widely regarded as the 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 Britain made after the war and 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.
The war for Argentina also had an effect in the form of avoiding a possible war with Chile and, more importantly, the return of democracy with the 1983 first free general elections since 1973. It 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 centuryRecommended1 recommendationPublished in