The Falkland Islands War: Winning With Infantry
AUTHOR - Major Vincent R. Leone, Jr., USMC
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
TITLE: THE FALKLAND ISLANDS WAR: WINNING WITH INFANTRY
I. INTRODUCTION: The Falkland Islands War was the first
amphibious and naval air war conducted in the missile age.
Both sides were equipped with similar high-tech weapons which
produced significant ship and aircraft loses. However, in an
age of high performance aircraft, missiles, and nuclear
submarines, the decisive battles were determined, not by
modern weapons, but by infantry closing with and destroying
the enemy with rifle and bayonet.
II. GENERAL: On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland
Islands, located 300 miles off the mainland. The claim to the
islands has been in dispute for 150 years. The islands were
easily seized since the defense force numbered only 79
British Royal Marines. The British responded by putting
together an amphibious task force and landed at Port San
Carlos, on 21 May 1982. Lacking air superiority, and
helicopter assets, most of the landing force had to go on
foot to attack the key mountains to the west of the main
Argentinian force in Stanley. After several successful night
attacks, through tough terrain and mine fields, the British
captured the approaches to Stanley. The Argentinians saw that
they could not match the fighting spirit of the British
infantry and surrendered on 14 June 1982.
III. CONCLUSION: Old lessons were relearned in the Falkland
Islands War. It showed that good training is the best weapon
of the infantryman and that supporting arms can be the
decisive factor in allowing infantry to accomplish its
mission. It is significant that in this age of increased
mobility, the ability to move over land by foot became the
tactical advantage of the war.
THE FALKLAND ISLANDS WAR: WINNING WITH INFANTRY
Thesis Statement: In an age of electronic warfare, missiles,
high performance aircraft, and nuclear submarines, the
decisive battles of the Falkland Islands war were determined,
not by modern technology, but by infantry closing with and
destroying the enemy with rifle and bayonet.
I. Falkland Islands War
A. Historical Background
B. Reasons for War
II. Falkland Islands Orientation
III. Military Situation
IV. Military Operations
A. Pebble Island
B. Goose Green
V. Lessons Learned
THE FALKLAND ISLANDS WAR: WINNING WITH INFANTRY
The Falkland Islands War was the first amphibious and
naval air war conducted in the missile age. Both sides were
equipped with similar high-tech weapons which produced
significant ship and aircraft loses. However, the weapons
used most looked very familiar from World War II. Rifles,
machine guns, mortars, artillery, and even bayonets were the
weapons of the day. Even modern main battle tanks had no
place in this conflict. The decisive battles of the Falkland
Islands War were determined, not by modern technology, but by
infantry closing with and destroying the enemy with rifle and
The Falkland Islands have a long record of settlement and
disputed claims. They were first discovered by the English
navigator, John Davis, in 1592, and have been occupied at
various times by England, France, Spain, and, Argentina. In
1764, French settlers landed in East Falkland, while in 1765,
Captain John Byron claimed the islands for Great Britain and
left a small party in West Falkland In 1766, the French
settlers under pressure from Spain withdrew. In 1771, Spain
accepted the British claim. The British abandoned the islands
three years latter, but reoccupied them in 1833.
Argentine claims stem from rights inherited from Spain
which asserts to have discovered the islands known to them as
the Islas Malvinas in 1520. They state that the British
withdrawal in 1774 fulfilled a secret oral agreement to
concede Spanish sovereignty over the islands. The Spanish
built houses and fortifications on the islands, but abandoned
them in 1829.
In 1829, the new Republic of Buenos Aires, later to
become Argentina, sent Louis Vernet to the islands to develop
a colony in its name. Two years latter, Vernet seized three
United States sealing vessels which were operating off the
coast of the Falklands. This brought down the corvette USS
Lexington, which bombarded the settlement forcing its
The British however, never renounced their claim and
resumed official occupation in 1833. The colony was
established under naval military rule until 1841, when a
civil administrator was appointed by the British government.
This has been the situation ever since.
The modern dispute goes back to 1965 when the United
Nations General Assembly asked the British and Argentinians
to hold talks to find a peaceful solution to their claims on
the islands. Talks were held every year without success. In
1976, the Argentinians illegally established a scientific
research station on South Thule Island, 900 miles to the east
of the Falklands and part of the Falkland Island Dependency
under British rule. The British made several protests and
both countries recalled their ambassadors. The dispute lapsed
and ties were reestablished in 1980.
The Argentinians however, never forgot about the
Falklands. In a long article in a leading Buenos Aires
newspaper in January 1982, Argentine President Galtieri told
how he promised to possess the Malvinas before 3 January
1983, the 150th anniversary of the British settlement.[3:11]
The British Foreign Office considered the threat as limited.
They felt that the Argentinians had been complaining about
the Falklands for over a century and had never done anything
about it. The theory was that the Argentinians had enough
problems at home with internal dissent and runaway inflation.
War was the last thing they needed. In fact, President
Galtieri felt that he needed a diversion from the problems at
home and an invasion of the Malvinas to enforce their claim
could unite the country. [5:36]
Events leading up to the Argentinian invasion started on
18 March 1982. Constantine Davidoff, a Greek, Argentine scrap
metal merchant, landed on South Georgia Island, located 800
miles east of the Falklands, with a contract to dismember the
old whaling station. They set up camp and raised the
Argentinian flag. The British Antarctic Service scientists on
the island informed the Argentinians that they would have to
leave until permission was granted from the British Base
Commander to land. The scrap metal party departed but left
behind twelve workmen.
When a diplomatic protest was made to the Argentine
Government on 22 March,it was met with indifference. On 24
March, twenty-two Royal Marines were landed to remove the
workers. President Galtieri now felt that he had an incident
which would suffice for invading the Falklands.[5:40]
On the morning of 2 April 1982, the 1060 people of the
Falkland Island's capitol of Stanley were awaken by the sound
of gunfire. An invasion had begun that had been feared
intermittently for 149 years. The first noises came from
Argentinian commandoes who seized an empty marine barracks
under the cover of darkness. At the same time, other
commandoes surrounded Government House where the main marine
defenses were set in.
At dawn, the landing force came ashore. Opposing the
invasion force were seventy-nine Royal Marines. Although
surprised at first, the tough Marines fought back for three
hours killing some Argentinians without loosing a man. In a
hopeless position and fearing a massacre, the Governor
ordered the Marines to surrender. The next day on 3 April,
another Argentinian invasion force appeared at South Georgia
Island. Twenty-two Royal Marines waged a seven-hour battle
killing three Argentinians before surrendering.[3:3]
The Falkland Islands are a British Crown colony which lie
strategically about 300 miles from the entrance to the Strait
of Magellan in the South Atlantic Ocean. The group of islands
include two large islands, East Falkland and West Falkland,
and about 200 other smaller islands. The total area these
islands comprise is 4618 square miles. The capital is Stanley
on the eastern tip of East Falkland.
The population of 1800 is composed mainly of descendents
of early Irish and Scottish settlers, most of which live in
Stanley. The principle occupation of the islanders is sheep
herding conducted by large company owned ranches operated by
resident managers. Almost all food, clothing, and wood is
The terrain of the islands is rolling and treeless
covered with scanty grasses and scattered large peat bogs.
Camouflage and concealment is difficult. The ground during
the winter is sodden, alternated by tufts of grass and
covered with brackish water. Movement for heavily weighted
down infantrymen is slow and exhausting, especially at night.
On higher ground, the slopes are slippery and rock-runs on
the crests extend for miles, also impeding movement. Some
extremely rugged mountains rise up through the bog. The
highest on East Falkland is Mount Osborne at 2000 feet.
The water table lies a few inches below the surface of
the ground and digging a fighting hole results in a water
filled ditch. Some streams provide drinkable water. The
coastline is jagged and made up of deep fiords of glacial
origin. Movement around the islands by boat is easy. The road
network is poor, with no roads existing beyond Stanley.
Trails connecting the outlying settlements are only passable
in the winter by tracked vehicles. Visibility is outstanding
during good weather due to the lack of air pollution.
The South Atlantic climate during the winter is
challenging. The Falkland has a chilly, damp climate with
temperatures averaging 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Light, drizzly
rains are frequent and occur two out of every three days, all
year. Winds blow continuously and change direction and
intensity. Periods of rain, snow, fog, and sun change
rapidly. The warmth of an out break of sunshine is limited,
giving few opportunities for troops to warm up and dry out.
The British amphibious task force set sail from
Portsmouth Harbor, England on 5 April 1982, three days after
the Argentinian invasion. With the carriers Invincible and
Hermes in the lead, it headed for Ascension Island, located
3340 miles from the Falklands. There the task force would
combat load the hastily embarked gear. The landing force
consisted of 4800 troops made up of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal
Marines. Units included the 40, 42, 45, Commando; Second and
Third Battalions, The Parachute Regiment; detachments of the
Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS)
eight light Scorpion and Scimitar tanks; and eighteen 105mm
light artillery guns. Sea Harrier jets and Sea King, Wessex,
and Chinook helicopters would be in support.
Once in the Atlantic, the carriers were joined by
destroyers, frigates, and support vessels until the fleet
numbered nearly 30 ships. This force would ultimately rise to
over one-hundred ships, forming the largest British armada
since World War II. In addition to war ships, the Navy was
relying heavily on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. The
education ship Uganda was taken over and rapidly turned into
a 1000 bed hospital ship. The 1600 passenger cruise ship
Canberra became a troop and supply ship. This transition
included erecting two helicopter landing spots over a
swimming pool and one on top of the ward room.
Many desirable assets were omitted due to lack of space.
The most significant of these were Remote Piloted Vehicles
(RPV) and 155mm howitzers. The RPV's would have given a real
time aerial reconnaissance ability. The 155mm guns would have
been useful with their longer range and greater punch.
However, the logistical support to use these guns would have
Argentina had deployed 9000-11000 troops to the Flaklands
and had almost two months to construct the defenses of the
island. The defenses were oriented around Stanley with the
Argentinians figuring it was the best place for an amphibious
assault. Many Argentinians were conscripts and evidence shows
that although weapons and equipment were plentiful, troops
were poorly trained in using and maintaining it. Fire support
consisted of 155mm and lO5mm howitzers, 105mm recoilless
rifles, and 50 caliber machine guns.
Reports that the Argentinians were ill fed were wrong.
The Argentinians spent considerable time building up
logistics bases using C-130 transports and civilian
airliners. Nightly C-130 logistic flights to Stanley airfield
continued throughout the war.
The Argentinian Air Force was the most professional of
the services. Their bravery was witnessed time and time again
as they made low level passes to bomb amphibious shipping.
Their pilots were trained by the United States and Israel,
and flew A-4 Skyhawks, Pucaras, and the Mirage III.
Several advance force operations were conducted in
preparation for the British amphibious landing. Most of these
missions were enemy reconnaissance and beach surveys
conducted by SAS and SBS teams. There was great concern for
the Argentine ability to oppose the amphibious assault by air
attack due to lack of British air superiority. A substantial
number of planes were believed to be operating from the
airfield on Pebble Island in West Falkland. An eight man SAS
team inserted by canoe verified the presence of several
aircraft and at least one-hundred men. On the night of 14
May, two Sea King helicopters carrying forty-five SAS troops
conducted a raid on the airfield. With the support of naval
gunfire, the SAS troops blew up eleven aircraft and made a
hasty withdrawal without loosing a man.
The landing site chosen for the amphibious assault was at
Port San Carlos, located on the northwestern coast of East
Falkland. The assault started on the morning of 21 May and
initially was unopposed. At approximately 1000, Argentine
aircraft attacked and began to target the destroyers and
frigates, leaving the troop transports and supply ships
untouched. By the end of 22 May, the landing force was ashore
and the force beach head was secure.
The first major offensive action of the war took place on
28 May with 2nd Para's move south from San Carlos to take the
enemy garrison at Goose Green. Due to the sinking of the
Atlantic Conveyor and the loss of three out of four CH-47
Chinook helicopters, 3 Commando Brigade had just enough
helicopter assets for general off-load, which due to air
attack was progressing at a slow rate. 2nd Para would have to
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walk the eighteen miles to Goose Green.
Since artillery batteries of lO5mm guns had no prime
movers, they would also have to rely on the short helicopter
assets to displace guns and ammunition. Three lO5mm guns with
320 rounds each would be lifted to a fire base.[2:237] Naval
gunfire support was to come from a frigate and the battalion
was forced to carry two of eight organic 81mm mortars. The
ammunition would be carried by every man. The battalion
requested support from the eight Scorpion and Scimitar light
tanks but was denied figuring that the tanks would be bogged
down in the maze of rivers and streams. As it turned out,
this was a wrong decision because later exploits showed that
tanks could move about the island.
Company size, battalion objectives were set up and all
attacks were to be non-illuminated supported night attacks.
The battalion crossed the line of departure at 0300. As day
broke, four companies were conducting frontal assaults at
Darwin. During the attack, heavy resistance was met and close
air support [CAS] was urgently requested but the harriers
located at sea, could not take off because of bad weather.
The mortar platoon ran out of ammunition and at 0430 the fire
support ship had to return to the safety of the air umbrella
at San Carlos.
At 0930 the momentum of the attack had been lost. The
Battalion Commander felt it was time to lead from the front.
While personally leading an attack on an enemy trench, he was
hit by fire and fell mortally wounded. He was posthumously
awarded the Victorian Cross, Britain's highest decoration.
Six hours after the battle for Darwin was over, the
battalion started its assault on the final objective of Goose
Green. With little cover, the advancing companies started
taking devastating artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire.
While one company was advancing, a white flag was raised at
an enemy position. When one platoon commander went forward
with a squad, they were fired upon, killing the officer and
two men. The platoon then overran the position, killing all
Artillery was the only fire support that was left but
they were very short of ammunition with only 83 rounds per
gun. Finally at 1500, two harriers arrived on station and
took out the enemy artillery with cluster bombs.[2:24]
As night fell, the battalion had surrounded Goose Green.
It was decided to send two enemy prisoners back to Goose
Green to ask for a surrender or be destroyed by air attack.
The Argentinians agreed and surrendered the next morning. At
a cost of 17 men killed and 35 wounded, 2 Para killed 250
Argentinians and took over 1200 prisoners.[2:251]
With Goose Green secured, 3 Commando Brigade turned its
attention to moving forces toward Stanley where the majority
of the Argentine forces were. A series of mountains lie to
the west of Stanley and were to be assigned as intermediate
objectives for the main attack. Since there still were no
helicopter assets to move the battalions east, the movement
would have to be made on foot.
45 Commando and 3 Para started what was to be known as
the big "yomp" across East Falkland. They marched forty miles
in three days carrying all their personal equipment with
packs weighing up to 110 pounds. This route took them up and
down hills along rocky valleys and through stone runs that
ran for miles. The Para's hiked for 24 hours straight
stopping occasionally. They secured Douglas Settlement and
Teal Inlet to the northwest of Stanley.
While 3 Para and 45 Commando were moving on foot across
East Falkland, a company of 42 Commando used the limited
helicopter assets to fly to Mount Kent, a mountain that
dominated the intermediate objective line of mountains. The
next day, on 1 June, the remainder of 42 Commando was
airlifted to Mount Challenger which also dominated the
approaches to Stanley.
On 29 May, the 5th Infantry Brigade consisting of the 2nd
Battalion Scots Guards, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and 1st
Gurka Rifles arrived at San Carlos. This brought the number
of ground forces up to 8000 troops. On 4 June, the commander
of 5 Brigade used a private phone to call from Goose Green to
the farm manager at Fitzroy, 36 miles away, to ascertain the
enemy strength there. When it was found out that the
Argentinians departed he hastily flew a company to secure a
On 8 June, it was decided to bring 5 Brigade up to Bluff
Cove. Unfortunately, the ships were caught in daylight during
the ship to shore movement and were attacked by aircraft
leaving the British with 51 killed and 46 injured.[2:281]
With the landing of 5 Brigade, the British now had two
brigades abreast in a line 10 miles west of Stanley.
The plan to attack Stanley was to have 2 Commando Brigade
seize the intermediate objectives of Mount Langdon, Two
Sisters and Mount Harriet. On the night of 11 June, 3 Para
attacked Mount Langdon, 45 Commando attacked Two Sisters and
42 Commando attacked Mount Harriet. The attacks were
conducted at night along routes that had been discovered by
extensive patrolling through the many scattered mine fields.
The Argentinians were in prepared positions with heavy
machine guns and night vision devices. Attacks were conducted
with fixed bayonets and the British infantry routed the enemy
from their positions.
On the night of 13 June, 5 Brigade started their attack
on Mount Tumbledown and Mount William with the Scots Guards.
They too met an entrenched enemy in bunkers dug under the
huge boulders that surrounded the area. The enemy was
supported with mortars and heavy machine guns. At the same
time the Scots were fighting bunker to bunker, 2 Para
attacked Wireless Ridge. With the help of artillery and naval
gunfire fire they attacked and defeated two enemy regiments.
To the south, the Welsh Guards supported by Gurkas advanced
on Mount William. They met little resistance and easily took
With the capture of the all of the high ground to the
west, the British now looked down upon Stanley, their next
objective. However, there was no need to plan the attack for
white flags sprang up around Stanley. The next day, the
British accepted the surrender of over 6000 Argentinians. The
war was over!
Old lessons were relearned in the Falkland Islands War.
It showed that good training is the best weapon of the
infantryman and that supporting arms can be the decisive
factor in allowing infantry to accomplish its mission. It
demonstrated that a well trained army with good morale can
overcome numerically superior forces with poor leadership,
morale, and training. It proved once again that airplanes,
missiles, and ships cannot occupy and control land.
It is significant that in this age of troop movement by
helicopter, armored personnel carrier, and truck, the ability
to move over land by foot became the tactical advantage of
the war. Troops walked to war with a hundred pound pack and
carrying a mortar round. This was an element that the
Argentinians never expected and part of their reasoning for
not attacking the force beachhead. Air superiority was never
achieved by either side and infantry using conventional
tactics won the war. Technology in the shape of computers,
lasers and lock on missiles could not replace the courage of
the infantryman. Victory was achieved by men going in on foot
and prepared to fight.
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3. Laffin, John. Fight for the Falklands. New York: St.
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4. Mcmanners, Hugh. Falklands Commando. London: William
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5. Middlebrook, Martin. Operation Corporate. London: Penguin
Books Ltd, 1985, 15-103.
6. Perrett, Bryan. Weapons of the Falklands Conflict. Poole:
Blandford Press, 1982
7. Thompson, Julian. No Picnic. New York: Hippocrene Books,
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