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The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982: A Case Study And Lessons

The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982: A Case Study And Lessons

For The United States Today.

 

CSC 1995

 

SUBJECT AREA - History

 

 

 

The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982:

A Case Study and Lessons For The

United States Today

 

 

 

 

LCDR Andrew A. King

 

 

Executive Summary

 

 

Title: The Falklands Campaign of 1982: A Case Study and Lessons for the United States

Today.

 

Author: Lieutenant Commander Andrew A. King, United States Navy

 

Thesis: Cutbacks and reductions in defense spending under consideration will inhibit the

Armed Forces' ability to conduct sustained combat operations overseas of the type

envisioned by the authors of "...From the Sea."

 

Background: This paper is a case study of the campaign mounted by Great Britain to

retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982. A number of deficiencies in the

British forces participating in the campaign were the result of decisions made to reduce

defense spending in the 1960's and 1970's. These reductions were the result of a

prolonged debate undertaken by the government on Britain's role in the world and her

need for an expensive navy. By April 1982, the Royal Navy was preparing to retire both

aircraft carriers and had slashed spending on shipbuilding programs. The timing of the

invasion was nearly disastrous, and the outcome was by no means certain until the final

days of the land campaign on East Falkland. This campaign serves as an excellent model

for the kind of campaign envisioned by the authors of "...From the Sea," particularly as

we debate the same kinds of questions in this country today that were debated across the

Atlantic more than twenty years ago.

 

Recommendation: The United States should use the Falklands War as a model in

determining its ability to conduct sustained combat operations overseas, on short notice,

according to the concepts espoused by "...From the Sea."

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

 

Executive Summary ii

 

Outline iv

 

An Unexpected War 1

 

Historical Origins 3

 

The Campaign 9

 

An Analysis 47

 

Some Important Lessons for the United States 60

 

Endnotes 69

 

Acknowledgements 70

 

Bibliography 71

 

Map of the Falkland Islands 73

 

 

 

The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982:

 

A Case Study and Lessons For The United States Today

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outline

 

 

 

Thesis Statement: Cutbacks and reductions in defense spending under consideration will

inhibit the Armed Forces' ability to conduct sustained combat operations overseas of the

type envisioned by the authors of "...From the Sea."

 

I. Great Britain found herself in an unexpected war for which she was ill-

prepared.

 

A. Defense cuts had reduced the Royal Navy's ability to project power

overseas.

 

B. The British Armed Forces were oriented towards a conflict with the

Warsaw Pact on and near the European continent.

 

II. The history of the Argentinian dispute with Great Britain over the

Falkland Islands goes back some 200 years.

 

A. The islands were discovered by the British.

 

B. The islands were visited and claimed by three nations.

 

C. Britain, France, and Spain all established settlements in the islands.

 

D. The British seize control of the islands by force in 1833.

 

E. Argentina continued to claim sovereignty over the islands.

 

F. The United Nations directed Argentina and Great Britain to

negotiate an end to their dispute.

 

G. Argentina, seeing no progress in negotiations, invaded the islands

and seized them by force.

 

III. The Case Study: Great Britain conducted a campaign to recapture the

Falkland Islands.

 

A. Great Britain dispatched a task force to the South Atlantic to

recapture the islands.

 

1. Great Britain mobilized its merchant fleet for the war effort.

 

2. RADM Woodward was appointed task force commander.

 

B. Argentina enjoyed a number of advantages, but the Royal Navy's

early deployment of its submarine force leveled the playing field.

 

C. South Georgia was recaptured on 25 April.

 

D. Argentina dispatched its fleet to engage the approaching task force.

 

1. The Argentine Navy attempted a coordinated attack against

the British carriers, but was unable to execute it.

 

2. HMS Conqueror found one of the Argentine surface action

groups and sank ARA General Belgrano.

 

3. As the Argentine fleet retired, the Argentine Air Force

attacked and sank HMS Sheffield to recover the Navy's

honor and attempt a crippling blow to the carriers.

 

E. The British task force prepared for an amphibious assault on East

Falkland.

 

F. The landing force arrived and proceeded to assault the San Carlos

area. After five days, the beachhead was secure, and most

equipment and all of the men were ashore.

 

1. A number of pre-assault operations were undertaken to

facilitate the invasion.

 

2. The landings were marred by Argentine air attacks.

 

3. RMS Atlantic Conveyor was sunk, taking supplies and aircraft

with it to the bottom.

 

G. 3 Commando Brigade conducted a rapid eastward advance to invest

Port Stanley.

 

1. 3 Para recaptured Teal Inlet.

 

2. 2 Para recaptured Darwin and Goose Green following a two

day battle.

 

H. Reinforced by 5 Brigade, the land forces recaptured Port Stanley on

14 June.

 

IV. The British campaign was handicapped by a number of disadvantages.

 

A. Command and control was complex and difficult at times.

 

1. Some control over the task force was exercised from

London.

 

2. RADM Woodward was encumbered by his inability to

direct the Royal Navy's submarines operating in theater.

 

3. Communications were a problem for volume and

compromising operational security.

 

B. Intelligence was lacking at the start of the campaign.

 

C. The lack of airborne early warning led to the loss of several ships.

 

D. The logistic supply line was long and vulnerable, but the British

made it work.

 

E. The asymmetry of forces and technology favored Great Britain.

 

V. There are a number of important lessons for the United States in this

campaign, particularly with our new focus on littoral warfare.

 

 

An Unexpected War

 

 

 

At the end of March 1982, Great Britain suddenly and unexpectedly found herself

 

preparing to fight a war 8000 miles away, in a remote area of the South Atlantic Ocean

 

more than 4000 miles from her nearest outpost off the coast of West Africa. Unprepared

 

for war so far away and unable to defend the islands, she could only watch helplessly as

 

a middleweight continental power began deploying forces for an invasion that no one

 

could have predicted. From the outset, there was only was possible answer: deploy forces

 

to recapture the islands and restore the rule of law.

 

The timing was nearly catastrophic; defense cuts had drastically reduced the Royal

 

Navy's ability to project power across an adversary's shores. Defense planners in the

 

1970's had invested their dwindling resources in a navy that would operate as part of a

 

larger NATO force to defend the North Atlantic and European continent against a

 

Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion. With British foreign interests narrowing in the wake of

 

rapid decolonialization, politicians could no longer justify a huge navy, and were not

 

prepared to finance one in the austere financial climate the nation then faced.

 

By 1981, Britain's last two aircraft carriers were slated for decommissioning. The

 

surface combattant force had a distinct orientation toward antisubmarine warfare, and the

 

naval air arm's only carrier-based fixed-wing air asset was the Sea Harrier.* Fleet air

 

______________________________

*With the decision to eliminate the carriers, the Royal Navy had no need of other kinds of aircraft.

 

defense and amphibious projection were predicated on the assumption that any future

 

conflict would occur within range of support from allied fleet carriers or shore-based

 

aircraft, and that the Royal Air Force would provide those services formerly rendered by

 

a carrier air wing. The Royal Navy thus had no organic airborne early warning

 

capability, and Sea Harrier pilots had only minimal training in air to air combat.*

 

Although the Argentine dispute with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands was

 

nearly 150 years old, no blood had been shed over the islands' sovereignty in that time,

 

and negotiations mandated by a U.N. resolution had been in progress for more than a

 

quarter century by 1982. Periodic bombast and rhetoric from Buenos Aires were

 

common, so the distant rumblings that began early that year were not recognized as being

 

indicative of Argentine intentions. Indeed, the first indications that an invasion was

 

probable didn't materialize until just days before Argentine forces began deploying into

 

the South Atlantic. By then, it was too late to deter the invasion, and Britain could only

 

begin making preparations for a campaign to recapture her colony.

 

 

___________________________

*In 1981, the Sea Harrier's primary mission was to intercept and destroy long range Soviet bombers with short range

missiles. Its secondary mission was sea surveillance and reconnaissance. The airplane had a limited capability against ground

targets and surface combatants: the loft delivery of 1000 lb bombs. Since no money was available to modify the planes for smaller

bombs, pilots were not trained to perform close air support. Air combat maneuvering was not an intended mission either, since

long range Soviet bombers over the North Atlantic would have to operate beyond the range of fighter protection. That

assessment was revisited in the summer after two U.S. Navy F-14's shot down two Libyan SU-22's over the Gulf of Sidra. Pilots

began training for air-to-air combat shortly thereafter, but by the time of the invasion, only a handful had completed training.

Of note is that of the 25 pilots deploying with the task force in April, only eight were night qualified.

 

Historical Origins

 

 

 

The dispute over the legal ownership of the Falkland Islands has its origins in the

 

era of European exploration and colonialism. First discovered in 1690 by a British sea

 

captain, the islands were visited, claimed, and briefly occupied at various times over the

 

next century by the British, Spanish, and French. None of the early expeditions to the

 

islands led to a permanent settlement, and it appears that most visitors were only too

 

happy to leave the cold, wind-swept rocks.

 

The French established a settlement on East Falkland in 1764, naming it Port

 

Louis after King Louis XV, while a British colony was established on West Falkland at

 

Port Egmont in 1765. Neither settlement was aware of the other's existence for more

 

than a year, but the inevitable discovery initiated a chain of events which led to Great

 

Britain's first Falklands crisis. Both the British and French governments asserted their

 

claims to sovereignty over the territory and issued demands for the other to withdraw its

 

settlement.

 

Spain, apparently unaware of any settlement in the Falklands, was furious when

 

she learned of the Anglo-French dispute and demanded that both parties leave the islands.

 

The Spanish reminded the French government that in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713),

 

France had formally repudiated all but then established claims in South America.* The

 

_________________

*French Guiana and some islands in the Caribbean Sea.

 

 

 

French were in no mood to go to war with Spain, who was then an ally, and King Louis

 

XV was persuaded to cede the French claim to Spain in 1767 in exchange for financial

 

compensation. That matter settled, Port Louis was turned over to the Spanish and

 

renamed Puerto Soledad. A Spanish expedition from Buenos Aires was dispatched two

 

years later to forcibly remove the British from Port Egmont.

 

The British government responded to this crisis by commencing a round of

 

diplomatic talks with Spain. Despite threats made by both nations, neither was really

 

anxious to go to war over the distant islands. The crisis was resolved by a secret

 

agreement that apparently permitted a British expedition to return to Port Egmont

 

without opposition, provided that the expedition would not remain there permanently.*

 

A British expedition duly arrived in 1790, raised the Union Jack, and remained for three

 

years before returning home. On departing, the expedition left behind a plaque declaring

 

that the islands were the sole property of King George III. Great Britain and Spain thus

 

appear to have diffused the crisis without going to war or formally conceding their

 

respective claims.

 

East Falkland remained occupied by a Spanish garrison until 1810, when events

 

in South America compelled Spain to recognize the independence of the emerging nations

 

there and to withdraw her forces. With the Spanish gone, the islands were left without

 

 

__________________

*The exact terms of the agreement are lost to history. Its terms have been the subject of much speculation, and are

at the heart of contemporary Argentine claims.

 

 

government, and became a shelter used by whaling vessels to escape South Atlantic

 

storms. Argentina made her first formal claim to the islands in 1820, arguing that they

 

were an integral part of her Spanish paternity, inherited by the new nation upon

 

independence. A provincial governor was duly appointed and a garrison established

 

A British task force of two frigates arrived in January 1833 to reassert British

 

sovereignty over the islands following a brief action between the United States and

 

Argentina there. (The Argentine governor had seized two American fishing vessels for

 

illegally catching seals off the islands. A nearby American frigate retaliated a few weeks

 

later by destroying most of the settlement and spiking the Argentine guns.) Surprised and

 

without means of defense, the Argentine garrison was forced to lower its flag and return

 

to Argentina.

 

Argentina never forgot the humiliation she experienced at the hands of the Royal

 

Navy, and generations of Argentians were subsequently raised to believe that the islands

 

were under the military occupation of a foreign power. An aggrieved Argentina declared

 

that the islands would again be Argentine one day.

 

The dispute continued, unnoticed by the world, for more than a century. For

 

much of that time, the Argentine government made periodic official statements to

 

indicate that it still considered the islands a national territory. For their part, the British

 

remained, and the islands were administered as a crown colony. Meanwhile, colonists

 

arrived and settled in the islands, establishing permanent homes and new settlements.

 

Over the years their descendants, themselves natives of the islands, gradually acquired

 

their own identity, becoming Falkland Islanders even as they chose to remain British

 

subjects.

 

The dispute surfaced again in 1964, when Argentina demanded that the United

 

Nations order the islands decolonized. The U.N. considered the issues, and in 1965

 

directed both nations to negotiate the sovereignty issue. Great Britain and Argentina

 

complied, and conducted regular negotiations with little progress for nearly seventeen

 

years. The islanders, understandably, insisted on their right of self determination and

 

were firm in their desires to remain British. The Argentines, in turn, rejected the British

 

government's recognition of the islanders' rights and demanded the unconditional return

 

of the territory. No compromise was forthcoming from either side.

 

In December 1981, General Roberto Viola stepped down as president of Argentina

 

for reasons of failing health. General Leopoldo Galtieri, already a member of the ruling

 

military junta, replaced him as president. Ascending to the presidency, however, required

 

the support of Admiral Jorge Anaya, the commander in chief of the navy. Admiral

 

Anaya was a fanatic nationalist, and he made his support for General Galtieri conditional

 

on a pledge that he would support a move to "recover" the Falklands. General Galtieri

 

agreed and decided that for symbolism, the "repatriation" should occur prior to the 150th

 

anniversary of the Argentine expulsion, then a little more than a year hence. In a speech

 

he gave shortly after taking office, he declared that 1982 would be "the Year of the

 

Malvinas." Faced with numerous social and economic problems at home, it is likely that

 

the junta viewed the military adventure as a means of diverting public attention and

 

capitalizing on the intense nationalism surrounding the dispute.

 

Matters came to a head in February 1982 with a new round of talks in New York,

 

the first to take place following the installation of the new president in Buenos Aires. As

 

before, the two nations' positions remained incompatible, and the talks amounted to little

 

more than a formal exercise of diplomacy. The foreign minister's reaction to the

 

continuing impasse was a public declaration that if negotiations could not produce the

 

desired result, Argentina reserved the right to employ "other means" to resolve the

 

dispute.

 

The final crisis began when scrap dealers were landed on South Georgia on 19

 

March 1982 by the Argentine Navy for the purpose of dismantling an old whaling

 

station, long in disuse. The landings were made without the permission of the

 

immigration authority in Grytviken, the settlement that served as the dependency's

 

"capital." Once ashore, their first action was to raise the Argentine flag and sing their

 

national anthem. Annoyed by their activity, the British dispatched HMS Endurance, an

 

Antarctic survey vessel with marines embarked, to remove the scrap dealers.

 

The dispatch of HMS Endurance placed the Argentine junta in a difficult position.

 

With Argentine citizens on an island claimed as Argentine territory, any move to

 

evacuate would be a serious blow to national prestige, and would be viewed as an

 

informal recognition of British sovereignty. Unwilling to take that step, the junta

 

withdrew some of the workers to forestall the British while sending their own expedition

 

of marines to protect the scrap metal workers. With confrontation imminent, the junta

 

in Buenos Aires decided that the time was ripe to execute Operation Rosario, a long

 

standing plan for the invasion and capture of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies.* As

 

March drew to a close, Great Britain and Argentina were on a collision course with war.1

 

 

______________________

*South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were technically a separate colonial entity. Designated dependencies

of the Falkland Islands, they were administered from Port Stanley.

 

 

The Campaign

 

 

 

Most of the Argentine fleet sailed from naval bases on the mainland on 31 March.

 

This was ominous in itself, but London had other indications that an invasion would

 

occur in the near future. The British cabinet met that evening to consider possible

 

courses of action. The First Sea Lord, to the surprise of many in the cabinet, indicated

 

that he could put together a task force and send it to sea within two days to retake the

 

Falklands. Prime Minister Thatcher authorized that undertaking without a moment's

 

hesitation, and so Operation Corporate, the British effort to liberate the islands, was

 

underway even before the invasion itself.

 

In the Falkland Islands, news of the imminent invasion reached the governor-

 

general on the afternoon of 1 April. With only a small contingent of Royal Marines,

 

there was little he could do except to prepare for the inevitable. The timing of the

 

invasion was fortuitous in that the garrison was temporarily at double strength, being in

 

the process of turning over to a relieving force that week. The marines deployed to

 

strategic locations to interdict the expected landings and to protect Government House,

 

the seat of local government.

 

 

__________________________

*There were then a large number of Argentine marines on South Georgia protecting the scrap dealers, and the Royal

Marines embarked in Endurance clearly felt unable to forcibly evict the Argentine party. There has also been speculation that

the British had broken the Argentine diplomatic code and were intercepting messages that indicated an imminent invasion.

Whether or not that is true, it seems very likely that the sailing of the Argentine fleet was merely a confirmation of the British

government's fears, and not a first indication of the impending action.

 

 

The Argentines were already off the coast of East Falkland when they intercepted

 

radio transmissions that indicated the loss of the tactical surprise they had hoped for. Not

 

wishing to allow the islanders any time to prepare defenses, the invasion's timetable was

 

accelerated by a few hours, and the first Argentine commandos slipped ashore after

 

midnight on 2 April. By early morning, they were landing in force and moving rapidly

 

to seize Government House. The governor-general, having put up a brief resistance,

 

ordered the marines to surrender to avoid unnecessary loss of life.*

 

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were seized a day later. Originally

 

planned to coincide with the landings in the Falkands, bad weather delayed the

 

Argentine landings farther east. As on East Falkland, the Royal Marines offered a brief

 

resistance, but the overwhelming numbers of invading troops made the outcome a

 

certainty.

 

In choosing an invasion to break the diplomatic impasse with Great Britain, the

 

Argentine junta was barking on three things: that the British would choose negotiations

 

to end the crisis, that both superpowers would remain neutral, and that the Third World

 

would support Argentina's action. The junta believed the Falklands to be a drain on the

 

British treasury, and that the British government would be unable and unwilling to

 

mount an expedition for their recapture. They believed that negotiations subsequent to

 

 

____________________________

*In resisting the Argentine landings, the marines provided the legal criteria under international law to classify the

Argentine operation as an invasion. This is an important distinction, because it reaffirmed a legitimate British claim to the

islands.

 

 

the seizure would eventually ratify their action. So certain of this were they that their

 

operations plan, which carefully detailed each phase of the invasion, neglected to provide

 

a defense plan for the islands.

 

For their part, the British had no war plans for the Falkands Islands.2 Studies

 

done in the mid-1970's concluded that it was possible to defend the islands only briefly

 

against an Argentine invasion, and then only with sufficient warning. The Royal Marine

 

garrison in the islands was not a defense force; it was a symbolic force that served mainly

 

as a tripwire against an Argentine invasion. Surprisingly, Whitehall never regarded a

 

British invasion to eject an occupying force as a realistic option, so there were no existing

 

plans for an amphibious assault either.3 The plans for Operation Corporate would have

 

to be developed by British forces enroute to the theater of operations.

 

Most of the British task force was already underway in late March, conducting an

 

annual exercise in the Mediterranean known as "Springtrain." When the warning order

 

for Operation Corporate arrived on the flagship, the exercise was suspended and the task

 

force began preparing for war. Stores, fuel, and ammunition were transferred from those

 

ships returning to England to the hastily formed South Atlantic task force. By the time

 

word of the invasion reached the task force on the evening of 2 April, it was already

 

through the Strait of Gibraltar, and moving southwest. The Royal Navy's two aircraft

 

carriers, HMS Hernes and HMS Invincible, sailed from Portsmouth on 5 April to

 

rendezvous with the five destroyers, three frigates, and fleet oiler enroute Ascension

 

Island. 3 Commando Brigade was ordered back from Easter leave and began making

 

preparations to fly down to Ascension Island. Two army parachute battalions, 2 Para and

 

3 Para, were attached to the commando brigade to bring its strength up to five battalions.

 

As the task force sailed south, British industry was gearing up rapidly to provide

 

the shipping and logistic support the amphibious force would need. Queen Elizabeth II

 

signed Orders in Council that authorized the requisitioning of Britain's merchant ships

 

to transport war material and personnel. Modifications were rapidly made to three

 

passenger liners and other small ferries to enable their employment as troop carriers.

 

Before the war ended, 47 ships would be requisitioned from the merchant marine under

 

the STUFT (ships taken up from trade) program.

 

The selection of the commander to lead the task force was made of necessity over

 

preference. The Defense Staff would have preferred having a vice admiral in command

 

at this critical juncture, but ADM Fieldhouse, Commander-in-Chief, Fleet, argued that

 

RADM John Woodward, already embarked in the task force for "Springtrain," was both

 

the logical and most expedient choice. His views, taken along with the speed at which

 

events in the South Atlantic were progressing, quickly made the decision process moot.

 

In designating Admiral Woodward as task force commander, the Royal Navy

 

placed him in command over all operations in theater. His command extended over

 

nineteen warships and dozens of ships taken up from trade, but not over the submarines

 

assigned to the theater. Knowing that submarines would be indispensable to the success

 

of the naval operation, he requested authority to direct their movements and missions

 

without having to defer to fleet headquarters back at Northwood. The request was quite

 

reasonable; he was a submariner himself and understood the concerns and considerations

 

that non-submariners are never fully able to appreciate. Even so, his request was refused,

 

and the submarines were required to continue taking their direction from Northwood

 

for the duration of the war.

 

Admiral Woodward had a number of problems to overcome during the transit

 

south, but one of the first was to establishing sea and air superiority around the islands,

 

without which an amphibious campaign would be impossible. Sea and air control would

 

indemnify the task force and isolate the occupation force, depriving it of the essential

 

supplies it needed. The first step in achieving control of the water and airspace was

 

actually taken by the government, which announced a total exclusion zone around the

 

islands as of 12 April, entry into which by Argentine vessels would make them liable to

 

seizure or linking. The declaration came less than a week after the invasion and was

 

carefully timed to go into effect just as the first British submarines were projected to

 

arrive in the area.

 

Argentina, watching developments in Great Britain and at sea with growing

 

concern, declared her own total exclusion zone around the islands and along the South

 

American coast. The Argentine Navy had only just returned to ports on the mainland

 

when her fleet was ordered back to sea to enforce the exclusion zone and to prepare for

 

the British task force's arrival.

 

Air superiority was by far the toughest element of the task force's mission. The

 

two carriers had only twenty Sea Harriers between them, and would have to operate

 

within range of the Argentine Air Force's bases on the mainland in order to support the

 

campaign. Such a scenario is ordinarily a naval campaigner's worst nightmare, especially

 

when forced to operate beyond the range of friendly land-based air support. Adding to

 

the problem, the Argentine Navy's aircraft carrier, with her eight A-4 Skyhawks, was

 

known to be underway somewhere north of the Falklands.

 

Sea supremacy would be more easily established once the air threat was

 

neutralized. Although quite professional and capable by most standards, the Argentine

 

Navy lacked the sophistication and technology to prevail against the Royal Navy in a war

 

at sea. The British had several advantages: her superior submarine fleet, the all-weather

 

intercept capability of the Sidewinder-equipped Sea Harrier, and more modern warships.

 

In contrast, Argentine warships were much older and equipped with aging technology.

 

Only three of their four submarines were sea worthy, and being older diesel-electric

 

boats, were limited to slower speeds and shorter operating cycles than Britain's nuclear

 

attack boats.

 

In weighing all of the relative advantages and disadvantages of the sea and air

 

power brought to battle by both sides, Admiral Woodward knew that he was going to

 

be in a difficult position, and that the outcome of the operation was by no means

 

certain.

 

The ships of the task force rendezvoused in mid-April at Ascension Island, a

 

British crown colony off the west coast of Africa. Leased by the United States, the island

 

hosts a NASA tracking and communications station, and an excellent airfield run by the

 

U.S. Air Force. It was through this facility that tons of supplies passed on their way to

 

the task force anchored off the coast, where the ships made their final logistic

 

preparations for the campaign. It was also to serve as a holding area for the amphibious

 

task force while the carrier battle group proceeded to establish maritime supremacy in the

 

sea and airspace around the Falklands. As amphibious ships began arriving at Ascension,

 

the carrier battle group sailed on 18 April.

 

In the midst of this activity, a surface action group, consisting of two destroyers

 

and a frigate was enroute South Georgia, carrying SAS* troops and Royal Marines. It was

 

under orders to seize the island before the rest of the task force arrived in theater. Those

 

orders were politically motivated, issued by a government only too aware that a

 

prolonged campaign fought without tangible results could bring it down. The island was

 

otherwise strategically insignificant, and something of a sideshow to the real task at hand.

 

The island was retaken in a brief action on 25 April. Anti-submarine helicopters

 

caught the Argentine submarine Santa Fe on the surface at the harbor entrance and

 

disabled it. Retaken after only 22 days under occupation, the action did provide a huge

 

____________________________

*Special Air Squadron. These special forces were indispensable to the British campaign.

 

 

morale boost to the nation and succeeded in putting one quarter of the Argentine

 

submarine fleet permanently out of action.

 

Meanwhile, the amphibious task force back at Ascension Island was making good

 

use of the time on their hands. Small boats and helicopters ferried men and equipment

 

from one vessel to another as the ships, hastily loaded in Great Britain, repacked their

 

stores and equipment for an opposed landing.* The marines and soldiers of the landing

 

force (minus 2 Para, which did not arrive on Ascension Island until the day of departure)

 

conducted weapons training and numerous rehearsals for the assault. These rehearsals

 

were to be invaluable as they answered numerous questions, such as how best to

 

disembark troops from passenger liners, and when. By the time of the amphibious task

 

force's departure, a number of timing and coordination problems had been ironed out.

 

As the carrier battle group arrived in the total exclusion zone on 1 May, the

 

British task force prepared for a decisive encounter at sea. To draw out the Argentine

 

Navy and Air Force, the task force commander commenced an elaborate deception plan

 

to convince the island's defenders that the amphibious task force was in company, and

 

making straight for a frontal assault on Port Stanley. If successful, the Argentines would

 

be tricked into revealing their defense strategy early on, as well as the disposition of her

 

fleet and aircraft.

 

________________________________

*In the days following the invasion, the task force's priority was to sail from Britain as quickly as possible. It was

important to be seen taking immediate action, and the government wanted to dispatch the task force while the political will to

do so still existed. The intent from the beginning was to reload the ships as necessary once at Ascension.

 

 

The Argentine Air Force had carefully monitored the approach of the carrier

 

battle group, sending long range reconnaissance aircraft on a daily basis to monitor its

 

approach. Throughout the two week transit from Ascension Island, the battle group

 

made extensive use of chaff to create radar images of the amphibious ships, reseeding the

 

clouds as necessary to maintain the illusion. It is likely that Argentina believed the

 

approaching task force to be much larger than it really was.

 

The Argentine Navy understood that the British task force's center of gravity was

 

its aircraft carriers. Without them, there would be no air cover, limited anti-air warfare

 

capability, and ultimately no maritime supremacy. Their plan was simple in concept

 

conduct a coordinated war at sea strike against the task force as it entered the exclusion

 

zone. By attacking simultaneously from multiple axes with anti-ship missiles and attack

 

aircraft, they hoped to saturate British air defenses and sink both carriers.* To that end,

 

their fleet had divided into three task groups, with a surface action group led by ARA

 

General Belgrano to the south, a second surface action group to the north, and the carrier

 

group, led by the Argentine carrier Vientecinco de Mayo to the northwest.

 

Admiral Woodward knew only in general terms where the enemy's naval forces

 

were, but he correctly surmised the situation taking shape at sea, and elected to remain

 

_______________________

*This tactic has become a modern classic. By carefully timing the arrival of anti-ship missiles with attack aircraft, the

attacker can provide the defending ship with more target choices than he can handle. The preferred method is to cause the

missiles and aircraft to arrive "on top" simultaneously from several different directions. This achieves mass of fire and denies

the ship the reaction time needed for a single weapons system to kill more than one incoming missile. Inevitably, some ordnance

will get through his defenses. A difficult targeting and coordination problem even for modern naval forces, it has never been

successfully employed in a war at sea, although several navies (including ours) do train for it.

 

 

in the northeast quadrant of the exclusion zone, beyond the range of Argentina's land-

 

based aircraft. He also decided that he needed to draw first blood in an effort to throw

 

the enemy off balance and disrupt his coordination.

 

In the predawn darkness of 1 May, a single Vulcan bomber flying an 8000 mile

 

round trip from Ascension Island signalled the arrival of British forces in the theater.

 

One of its bombs hit the runway near the center of the strip, creating a small crater. The

 

other bombs landed nearby without causing appreciable damage, but may nevertheless

 

have unnerved some of the Argentine troops on the ground. The task force struck a few

 

hours later. Three waves of Sea Harriers attacked the airfield at Port Stanley and other

 

targets in East Falkland. Three of the surface ships in the task force, HMS Glamorgan,

 

HMS Alacrity, and HMS Arrow, detached from the main body and conducted a naval

 

bombardment of Argentine positions near Port Stanley. The attacks resulted in the first

 

Argentine casualties of the campaign: several pilots and aircraft (some shot down in the

 

first air-to-air engagements of the war), two airfields, and a small number of troops

 

manning the antiaircraft guns around the airfields.

 

The attack provided the task force with some data on Argentine defenses in the

 

islands and the speed with which anti-aircraft fire could be brought to bear. It also

 

validated the Sea Harrier/Sidewinder combination as an effective weapon against

 

Argentine fighters, a notion that had previously been somewhat in doubt. In the short

 

term, the occupation forces were made to believe that an amphibious assault in the

 

vicinity of Port Stanley was imminent and this in turn the Argentine Navy to accelerate

 

its preparations to attack the task force at sea.

 

Besides providing an assessment of Argentina's defenses and capabilities, the attack

 

also served as a diversion to permit the first insertion of SAS reconnaissance patrols onto

 

East Falkland. For the next three weeks before D-Day, these patrols would make regular

 

visits to reconnoiter key points and terrain, even to establish a continuous presence on

 

Mount Kent, the high ground commanding a view of much of the island.

 

Argentina waited only a few hours to reply to the British raid. Some forty aircraft

 

were launched to attack the task force. Most of these were engaged by Sea Harriers flying

 

combat air patrols just off of East Falkand, and a number of Argentine aircraft were lost

 

in the first dogfights and Sidewinder engagements of the war. At least three Daggers

 

succeeded in attacking the three destroyers firing their mission on the gun line off of Port

 

Stanley, but the ships were lucky, and suffered only minor damage from machine gun

 

fire. The only serious threat to the carriers themselves was a small formation of Canberra

 

light bombers, which emerged from the airspace over the islands on a general course

 

toward the task force. Although flying low, they were detected early. Sea Harriers on

 

combat air patrol near the carriers succeeded in shooting one down and damaging the

 

other two, which returned to base without dropping their ordnance.4

 

The objectives of the day being largely achieved, the naval gunfire ships returned

 

to the battle group. In a few hours time, the British task force commander had

 

determined that no large air raids would be forthcoming from the mainland (due

 

probably to the need for in-flight refueling of any participating aircraft) and that Sea

 

Harriers were an excellent match for the Skyhawks, Mirages, and Daggers being flown

 

by the Argentines from the Falklands. The day's attacks failed, however, to completely

 

shut down the airfield at Port Stanley, and the Argentine Navy had not been drawn into

 

revealing its exact whereabouts.

 

The Argentine Navy, for its part, spent the next day attempting to coordinate an

 

attack on the British carriers in the hope of dealing the task force a heavy enough loss to

 

make an amphibious landing impossible. They had the advantage of knowing their

 

targets' locations; long range reconnaissance had been tracking them for days, guided by

 

radio intercepts of tactical and administrative traffic sent in the clear. ARA General

 

Belgrano and her destroyer escorts, carrying surface-launched Exocet missiles, were

 

southwest of the islands, in a position to move northeast quickly to get within firing

 

range of the British task force.* ARA 25 de Mayo, however, was caught in unusually calm

 

weather, unable to generate sufficient wind over her deck to launch aircraft. Ironically,

 

the luck which favored the Argentines in tracking and targeting the British task force

 

simultaneously denied them their first and best opportunity to actually attack it. The

 

Argentine Navy reluctantly retired, intending to try again the next day.

 

 

______________________

*Argentina would later claim that General Belgrano and her escorts were screening the theater of operations against

intervention by Chilean, Australian, or New Zealand naval forces that would have to pass Cape Horn to reach the theater of

operations.

 

Click here to view image

 

 

Their opportunity would never be repeated. As the surface action group led by

 

General Belgrano steamed west away from the British exclusion zone on the morning of

 

2 May, she was detected by HMS Conquerer, one of the nuclear-powered attack

 

submarines enforcing the total exclusion zone. Although not in a position to engage the

 

cruiser as specified by the rules of engagement, the submarine commander recognized the

 

danger to the task force, and drew the same conclusions that Admiral Woodward had.

 

He also realized that he would be unable to follow the cruiser if she chose to enter the

 

exclusion zone, as she would pass directly over a shallow bank where Conqueror would

 

be unable to follow submerged. He signalled the situation to fleet headquarters in

 

London, then began a long day of shadowing the cruiser, awaiting an opportunity to

 

attack her.

 

Admiral Woodward, on learning of the submarine's activities, signalled London

 

that he needed the cruiser sunk immediately, and that a change to the rules of engagement

 

should be authorized. Fortunately, the war cabinet quickly concurred and signalled

 

Conquerer that she could sink the cruiser at her earliest opportunity.

 

In the early evening hours, Conquerer finally reached firing position and fired two

 

World War II-vintage steam-driven torpedoes into the cruiser, which began listing almost

 

 

_______________

*The British government came under criticism in the international press for this decision. The Argentine cruiser, after

all, was outside the declared exclusion zone and did not appear to constitute any immediate threat to the task force. The British

government, however, had warned Argentina that her naval combatants were liable to attack anywhere if they posed a threat

to British forces. General Belgrano did pose a threat, so her sinking required only a change to the rules of engagement, not a

formal change in policy.

 

 

immediately and sank quickly. The two escorting destroyers began randomly dropping

 

depth charges, but none of these came close to Conquerer, and the submarine withdrew

 

to leave the destroyers to rescue the hundreds of sailors from General Belgrano.*

 

With the loss of their only cruiser and growing indications that an attack on Port

 

Stanley was not imminent, the Argentine Navy committed its largest blunder: its ships

 

were ordered back into port on the mainland, ostensibly to guard against an attack on the

 

continent. By returning to port, though, it became easy for British intelligence to keep

 

track of the fleet's whereabouts, and allowed British submarines to take positions off the

 

coast to sink the Argentine ships in the event they decided to sortie from port. The net

 

effect of the Argentine action was to concede sea superiority to the British task force

 

early, as well as air superiority to the east of the islands, where logistic ships would have

 

to operate. Two vintage torpedoes had thus succeeded in neutralizing an entire navy,

 

leaving it sidelined for the remainder of the war.

 

With the Navy out of the war, it fell to the air force to fight the war at sea and

 

deny the British an opportunity to land the marines. The problem was that most of their

 

attack aircraft were based in South America, and were unable to attack the task force

 

without being refueled in flight. Even with aerial refueling, attacking jets would still have

 

 

____________________

*In fact, neither destroyer provided any rescue assistance to the men adrift in the lifeboats. The survivors of General

Belgrano remained adrift at sea for more than a day before they were finally rescued. At a later inquiry, the two destroyer

captains claimed that in the aftermath of the sinking, their first concern was to find and sink the British submarine, and that they

attempted to do so. The inquiry found little evidence to support their contention, and they were relieved of command in

disgrace.

 

 

to carry a reduced bomb load to accommodate an external fuel tank or risk drawing the

 

tankers to within the Sea Harriers' attack range.

 

At the time of the invasion in early April, Argentina had taken delivery of five air-

 

launched variants of the Exocet missile. Recognizing that a successful attack against the

 

British carriers could still forestall an amphibious landing, the Argentine Air Force

 

concluded that an immediate attack was essential, and began preparations to accomplish

 

what the Navy could not.

 

On the morning of May 4, two Super Etendards took off from bases on Tierra del

 

Fuego, each armed with one Exocet. The aircraft flew in radio silence, met a tanker 150

 

miles out, then dropped down to within a few feet of the ocean below the British task

 

force's radar horizon. They were guided in toward their targets by an orbiting P-2

 

Neptune maritime reconnaissance aircraft, watching the task force from a safe range.

 

Executing their approach tactics flawlessly, they popped up to just over a hundred feet

 

at fifty miles out, selected a radar image, and fired their missiles. Minutes later, one of the

 

missiles struck HMS Sheffield, starting fires that could not be contained. All hands were

 

forced to abandon ship, and the task force had suffered its first significant loss.

 

The Argentines were disappointed to learn that they had sunk a destroyer, and not

 

the carrier that had hoped for. Nevertheless, they had carried out history's first successful

 

air-launched missile strike against a surface ship in combat, proving the effectiveness of

 

the Super "E"/Exocet combination. For the British, the loss was significant; one of their

 

newest destroyers had been lost after less than a week in theater.

 

Despite the loss of Sheffield and the uncertainty of Argentine submarines, the task

 

force learned two important lessons from its first week in theater. First, they discovered

 

that the Argentine Navy would not pose a serious threat to the battle group or other

 

shipping. Second, they learned that the Argentine Air Force could conduct a successful

 

attack out into the battle group's operating area northeast of Port Stanley, but only at

 

extreme range and with great difficulty. Satisfied that the amphibious task force could

 

operate with relative impunity east of the islands, London ordered the amphibious task

 

force down to the theater. The fleet of amphibious assault ships, cruise liners, logistic

 

resupply ships, accompanied by a small screening force departed Ascension Island on 8

 

May.

 

Admiral Woodward had concluded that a ten day window for an amphibious

 

assault existed beginning 16 May. That was the earliest date he felt he could have the

 

necessary ships in position with some degree of sea and air superiority to provide an

 

acceptable degree of risk to the amphibious and landing forces. In particular, it was

 

necessary to bring an amphibious assault ship, HMS Intrepid, out of mothballs to join the

 

task force before the landings began. The end of that window was predicated on the

 

approaching South Atlantic winter and deteriorating weather, as well as logistic and

 

resupply concerns. Many of the task force ships required drydocking and extensive

 

routine maintenance, scheduled for it prior to the invasion and now overdue. By the end

 

of June, some of these ships would be incapable of sustained combat operations. To wrap

 

up the campaign before reaching that culminating point, the first landings would have to

 

occur before 26 May.

 

Since departing the Mediterranean more than a month earlier, the selection of the

 

landing beach for the amphibious assault had been the subject of much study and

 

discussion. There were several options open to the task force: Berkeley Sound near Port

 

Stanley, San Carlos just off the Falkland Sound, Cow Bay on the north end of East

 

Falkland, and one of two or three bays' on Lafonia, the southern peninsula of East

 

Falkland.* A landing on West Falkland was ruled out early as offering only symbolic

 

value and requiring a second amphibious landing later to secure the eastern island.

 

There were several paramount considerations in selecting the landing site from

 

among these possibilities. One of the first considerations was the insertion of the landing

 

force as close to the ultimate objective as possible in order to bring the war to an early

 

conclusion. Berkeley Sound seemed the best choice to address that concern, but early

 

reconnaissance detected the Argentines mining the seaward approaches to Port Stanley.

 

Additionally, there were a number of sites on higher ground from which the defenders

 

could easily hinder the operation and mount a counterattack. In the face of these

 

difficulties, a direct assault into the Port Stanley area was ruled out.

 

The remaining choices all offered the possibility of an unopposed landing, an

 

_______________

*See map, p. 27.

 

Click here to view image

 

advantage in establishing a defensible beachhead and moving combat power ashore

 

quickly. Of these the San Carlos area afforded the greatest protection to the amphibious

 

task force. Ships entering Falkland Sound would have the advantage of terrain masking

 

against air attack. Attacking aircraft would either have to approach at higher altitude

 

(increasing their vulnerability) or would have just seconds to execute an attack against

 

shipping from a lower altitude. Of equal import, it would be nearly impossible for an

 

Argentine submarine to penetrate Falkland Sound, an advantage not offered at some of

 

the other sites under consideration.

 

The amphibious task force commander, Commodore Mike Clapp, and the landing

 

force commander, Brigadier Julian Thompson, both liked San Carlos for an additional

 

reason. The landing beaches would be protected from heavy weather, and the settlement

 

there could provide some basic facilities that would otherwise be lacking in a more

 

remote location. Admiral Woodward concurred with their recommendation, and

 

London approved the landing site in early May.

 

In selecting both D-Day and H-Hour, the landing force hoped to land in the

 

evening hours after sunset, since Argentine aircraft had not yet demonstrated a night

 

attack capability. They would thus have several hours of darkness in which to establish

 

the beachhead and get combat power ashore. Unfortunately, this was not possible,

 

because the amphibious task force would have been required to sail close into East

 

Falkland during the afternoon and into the sound at twilight, making early detection very

 

likely. The task force commander elected to land the landing force in the predawn

 

darkness in order to increase the probability of success for a stealthy approach to San

 

Carlos.

 

Several pre-assault operations would be necessary. Chief among the task force's

 

concerns was the possibility that Argentine mines had been laid at the entrances to

 

Falkland Sound. Lacking a minesweeper at the time, Admiral Woodward ordered one

 

of his frigates, HMS Alacrity, to make a night reconnaissance of the sound. The frigate

 

circumnavigated East Falkland on the night of 17-18 May, taking care to zigzag across the

 

northern entrance of the sound, where the amphibious task force would have to enter.

 

With the completion of her mission, the task force was able to conclude that no mining

 

had taken place there.

 

Another concern was that the Argentine Air Force operated a small squadron of

 

light attack planes from an air strip on Pebble Island, northwest of Falkland Sound. Slow

 

and propeller-driven, these airplanes were based within the amphibious operating area

 

and would have little difficulty in wreaking havoc on the landing. In another pre-assault

 

operation, SAS troops went ashore at Pebble Island on the night of 18 May, and

 

successfully incapacitated all eleven of these aircraft.

 

A third concern was the Argentine observation post on Fanning Head, established

 

on the high ground overlooking both the entrance to the sound and the landing beach

 

itself. One of the early objectives would have to be the capture of that position. The post

 

would have to be neutralized early in the assault to permit the landing force full freedom

 

of action.

 

In the early hours of 21 May, the ships of the amphibious task force slipped

 

quietly past Fanning Head and into Falkland Sound.* Completely darkened and in radio

 

silence, they reached San Carlos Water undetected and began discharging the landing

 

force. The plan was to put four of the five battalions ashore immediately, keeping 42

 

Commando afloat in Canberra as a reserve. 45 Commando would land in Ajax Bay to

 

secure the peninsula commanding San Carlos Water. 40 Commando would land in San

 

Carlos and seize the settlement. 2 Para would land in San Carlos alongside 40

 

Commando and seize the Sussex mountains to the south in order to anchor the

 

beachhead's right flank. 3 Para would land at Port San Carlos to seize that settlement,

 

secure the northern access to San Carlos Water and the beachhead's northern flank.

 

As the task force anchored in Falkland Sound, a deception plan was already

 

underway. Glamorgann entered Choiseul Sound several miles to the southeast, and

 

began shelling a beach near Goose Green. HMS Ardent joined her a little later and began

 

shelling another nearby beach while Glamorgan's Lynx helicopter flew in circles between

 

the ships and the beach area. With an SAS team ashore making its own noise, the

 

intended effect was for the Argentine garrison to believe that the main amphibious

 

landing was occurring there.

 

_________________

*See map, p. 31.

 

Click here to view image

 

As the amphibious task force began launching boats back in Falkland Sound, an

 

SBS* team flew into Fanning Head undetected, and took up positions to direct naval

 

gunfire from HMS Antrim, which now lay just off the coast. Shortly before 0400, she

 

commenced an accurate and effective bombardment of the Argentine position. When the

 

SBS party stormed the position a short while later, it discovered that those soldiers who

 

were not killed in the barrage had fled, leaving the entrance to Falkland Sound in British

 

hands.

 

The landings did not begin smoothly. 2 Para, scheduled to land at San Carlos in

 

the first boat wave, had not been able to participate in the rehearsals at Ascension Island.

 

A late change to the assault plan had rescheduled their movement from a later boat wave

 

in order to accelerate the overall process of moving men and equipment ashore.

 

Unfamiliar with some of the difficulties inherent in disembarking a passenger liner via

 

small boat, the paratroopers were unable to embark the landing craft quickly, and the

 

first boat wave crossed the line of departure more than sixty minutes late.

 

In the pre-dawn twilight, the assault elements of 3 Commando Brigade landed in

 

San Carlos, Port San Carlos farther north, and Ajax Bay on the west side of San Carlos

 

Water. For the most part, they had achieved surprise. Landing craft operated

 

continuously, bringing the rest of the force ashore throughout the morning while the

 

brigade seized their initial objectives. The delay in landing, however, brought serious

 

___________________________

*Special Boat Squadron. These are special forces similar to the U.S. Navy's SEALS.

 

 

consequences for the operation. At Port San Carlos, two helicopters were shot down and

 

a third was damaged by a small party of retreating Argentines that had spent the night in

 

the settlement. The helicopters had come under fire while overflying the settlement

 

without clearance from beach reconnaissance, a mistake which was the result of trying

 

to make up for lost time.

 

The Argentinian soldiers fleeing from Port San Carlos evaded capture and alerted

 

the occupation's headquarters in Port Stanley to the landings taking place in Falkland

 

Sound. The army commander rejected this first report; he was convinced that anything

 

occurring there was merely a diversion, and that the main attack would occur near Port

 

Stanley. The naval air arm, however, dispatched one reconnaissance aircraft to

 

investigate. Flying over Fanning Head, the pilot observed a large number of ships in the

 

sound, and escaped to deliver his report. Within hours, the Argentine Air Force was

 

flying in force, and a fierce air battle over Falkland Sound was underway.

 

The landing force commander, Brigadier Thompson, now realized that 42

 

Commando was in a precarious position in Canberra. If the passenger liner was hit in the

 

air attacks, he could lose his entire reserve in less than an hour. He ordered them ashore

 

to reinforce 3 Para, since that was the only battalion which had encountered enemy

 

soldiers during the action on D-Day.

 

Over the course of the next five days, Argentine attack planes returned repeatedly

 

during daylight hours, flying low over the sound, dropping bombs and firing missiles at

 

the ships operating there. Guided by an Argentine forward air controller hidden in the

 

hills overlooking San Carlos, their fire proved deadly against three ships of the task force

 

that were sunk while screening the landing force.* Oddly enough, these attacks seemed

 

to be concentrated primarily against the surface combatants and amphibious assault ships,

 

and not the landing force or the dozens of STUFT ships discharging their cargo to the

 

beach. Had some of those ships been sunk in the initial action, the landing force might

 

have found themselves severely handicapped by a lack of supplies and equipment in the

 

critical days that followed D-Day. Nevertheless, in spite of the battle raging in the skies

 

above, the landing force successfully put all of their men and most of their equipment

 

ashore.

 

The landing force was dealt their most severe blow on 25 May, with the loss of a

 

STUFT ship, RMS Atlantic Conveyor, carrying six Harriers, and five Chinook helicopters,

 

and critical supplies for the ground operation. Hit by an Exocet missile in the northern

 

approaches to Falkland Sound, the detonation started several fires which spread rapidly,

 

consuming everything onboard. Only one Chinook helicopter escaped damage; it had

 

been airborne when the missile struck the ship and landed safely ashore. The loss of the

 

helicopters deprived the landing force of their heavy lift capability, forcing on them a

 

fifty mile foot march over difficult terrain to reach Port Stanley. It's not clear that

 

Atlantic Conveyor was the intended target of the missile, but ill luck had caused the loss

 

_________________

*HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope, and HMS Coventry. Several other ships sustained varying degrees of damage.

 

 

of one of the key supply ships, and would necessitate dramatic alteration of the campaign

 

plan ashore.

 

The breakout from the beachhead commenced on 26 May. 40 Commando took

 

up positions around San Carlos and in the nearby Sussex Mountains to provide rear area

 

security for the landing force.* 45 Commando and 3 Para proceeded east toward the

 

northern settlements of Douglas and Teal Inlet, with Mount Kent and the high ground

 

overlooking Port Stanley their objective. It became apparent in the early stages of the

 

ground campaign that Argentine ground forces were unprepared for a pitched defense;

 

they made no effort to establish defense lines around the beachhead or prepare a

 

counterattack against the numerically inferior British force.

 

As the brigade began its eastward trek, the loss of the Chinook helicopters was felt

 

almost immediately. The terrain was difficult, and what few roads existed to connect the

 

settlements were poor, secondary roads. The only way to move artillery rounds up to

 

the front in a timely manner was by helicopter. Without the helicopters aboard Atlantic

 

Conveyor, 3 Commando Brigade initially had only seventeen aircraft at its disposal: the

 

surviving Chinook, eleven Sea Kings, and five Wessex helicopters. (Just to move one gun

 

battery that supports a commando battalion, 85 sorties are required.)4

 

The amphibious task force commander and landing force commander were forced

 

__________________________

*At the time, the possibility of an Argentine air assault by paratroopers from the mainland was seen as a real possibility.

A less likely scenario was for the small garrison on West Falkland to conduct an attack against the logistic activities in San Carlos.

 

 

to marshal the Sea Kings and smaller helicopters of the force, apportioning their missions

 

carefully among troop movement, logistic resupply, reconnaissance, medical evacuations,

 

and ship-to-shore offloads continuing in San Carlos. They were augmented at times by

 

the antisubmarine warfare Sea Kings from the carrier battle group, but there was still an

 

insufficient number. The demand for these aircraft was high, and they were flown almost

 

continuously during the first days of the ground campaign, performing several missions

 

simultaneously, often at the expense of helicopter safety rules.5 Inevitably, the British

 

advance toward Port Stanley was slowed considerably.

 

Another factor which challenged the British in their advance was deteriorating

 

weather. The winter solstice was less than a month away as the marines and paratroopers

 

pushed out of their beachhead. Several days of mist and rain created conditions of

 

visibility so poor that helicopters could not safely support the advancing battalions.

 

Without this support, it took three days for 45 Commando to advance 25 miles to effect

 

an unopposed recapture of Teal Inlet, roughly half the distance across East Falkland.

 

Even so, the ground advance proceeded relatively smoothly over the soggy peat, despite

 

the lack of adequate roads.

 

To the south, 2 Para was ordered to recapture Darwin and Goose Green, two

 

settlements that sat on a narrow isthmus connecting Lafonia to the rest of East Falkland.

 

Goose Green had an airfield, and its location was ideal for Argentine use in transporting

 

supplies to the garrrison on West Falkland. Beyond that feature, there was little strategic

 

value to the settlement as there were no Argentine facilities and few soldiers in Lafonia.

 

Brigadier Thompson had preferred to bypass the area altogether, pressing on instead

 

toward Port Stanley to establish firing positions as early as possible from which the city

 

could be invested. He was overruled by London, which insisted on the recapture of the

 

colony's second largest settlement.

 

2 Para was given little notice to commence its advance on Darwin from their

 

positions in the Sussex Mountains, and were directed to travel lightly, as speed was of the

 

essence. Offered fire support from HMS Arrow and a battery of three 105mm guns, the

 

battalion commander decided to leave all but two of his mortars behind since vehicular

 

transportation for the ammunition was unavailable, and the small number of Argentines

 

thought to be in Darwin and Goose Green were expected to capitulate quickly.7

 

2 Para departed the beachhead on the evening of 26 May, advancing south toward

 

the northern end of the isthmus. On the morning of 27 May, they arrived at Camilla

 

Creek House, some two kilometers north of the creek. As they were preparing to lay up

 

for the day, an Argentine reconnaissance patrol blundered into the British lines, and

 

surrendered. These prisoners provided the battalion the first indications that Darwin and

 

Goose Green had been reinforced. By then, however, 2 Para was too far forward to

 

recover the mortars left behind, and there was insufficient helicopter lift available to

 

bring additional assets. The battalion sent a request back to the brigade for light tank

 

support, but this request was denied due to a shortage of gasoline and a fear that they

 

could be bogged down on the open ground of the isthmus.8 A landing in the enemy's

 

rear was not feasible, and an parachute assault was out of the question. Lt. Col. "H"

 

Jones, the battalion commander, decided to press ahead, lacking any options other than

 

a frontal ground assault.

 

The lead elements of the battalion departed Camilla Creek House before midnight

 

on 27-28 May and made contact with the enemy at Camilla Creek shortly thereafter,

 

where the Argentines had placed their forward defenses. For three hours, HMS Arrow

 

provided naval gunfire on the Argentine positions as the battalion worked its way onto

 

the isthmus in the dark. With first light on 28 May, however, the battalion found itself

 

on open ground, facing prepared defensive positions and alert soldiers on higher ground.

 

The battalion had been briefed to expect a company-sized garrison with a small

 

number of mortars and 105mm artillery pieces. The BBC, however, had broadcast the

 

news a full day earlier that British forces were advancing toward the settlements. The

 

Argentine response was not surprising: a rapid reinforcement of the settlements with an

 

entire battalion, flown in by helicopter from Port Stanley. Arriving undetected, the

 

Argentines laid minefields and prepared defensive positions overlooking the open ground

 

from the north. Thus 2 Para was totally unprepared for the amount of resistance it

 

encountered as it moved down the isthmus toward the Argentine positions.

 

As the men of 2 Para advanced south under withering fire, they found themselves

 

repeatedly exposed to direct fire, even as Argentine artillery dropped hundreds of rounds

 

Click here to view image

 

on top of them. In some instances, the paratroopers found themselves behind enemy

 

machine gun positions, further slowing their advance and adding to the confusion of

 

battle. Ultimately, their advance was made possible by the systematic destruction of the

 

Argentine trenches with mortar and artillery fire, but with the limited number of tubes

 

available, this was a laborious process.

 

The tide of battle turned somewhat when, halfway down the isthmus opposite

 

Darwin, one company of 2 Para succeeded in working its way around the Argentine left

 

flank, from which it was then possible to enfilade the trenches with direct machine-gun

 

fire. At this point, the Argentine defense collapsed, and the settlement quickly

 

capitulated.

 

With the elimination of the Argentinian's main defense line on the isthmus,

 

another company of 2 Para swept south and established an encircling position southwest

 

of Goose Green. As night came on 28 May, the Argentines in Goose Green found

 

themselves surrounded and cut off. 2 Para had sustained heavy casualties and was nearly

 

out of artillery ammunition. It was completely out of mortar shells, but helicopters

 

began bringing additional artillery tubes and ammunition down from San Carlos, and as

 

the day ended, it was clear that time was on the side of the British.

 

On the morning of 29 May, the Argentine commander in Goose Green agreed to

 

a meeting with 2 Para's new commander. Realizing the hopelessness of his position, he

 

surrendered his men. To the surprise of the British soldiers on hand to accept the

 

surrender, more than 1100 soldiers emerged from positions in and around Goose Green

 

to surrender to a force barely one third their number.

 

With the recapture of Goose Green to the south and Teal Inlet to the north,

 

Argentine morale plummeted. In the only significant ground engagement (at Goose

 

Green), an alert and well prepared force had been defeated by a numerically inferior force

 

with little fire support. With British troops now firmly established on East Falkland, the

 

Argentine commanders decided that their best course of action was to go on the defensive

 

and attempt to hold out, hoping that the winter weather and fragile supply line would

 

drive the British to their culmination point.

 

Even before the landings in San Carlos Water, an SAS detachment had flown into

 

East Falkland to seize Mount Kent and prepare for the eventual attack on Port Stanley.

 

This mountain, some twenty kilometers from the city, was the highest point from which

 

the town could be seen to the east. It would have been an ideal location for the

 

Argentinians to anchor their defenses, having also a commanding view of the terrain to

 

the west, from which the British were advancing.

 

Immediately after liberating Teal Inlet on 30 May, 3 Para began a rapid march east

 

to establish positions on the mountain, covering the thirty kilometers in just over a day.

 

One company of 42 Commando, meanwhile, took off from San Carlos in Sea King

 

helicopters and reached the mountain on afternoon of 31 May. The Argentine presence

 

in the area was minimal, and the summit was secured that evening. By 1 June, two full

 

Click here to view image

 

battalions and elements of a third were on and around Mount Kent, and the high ground

 

had been conceded to the British.

 

To the south, 2 Para prepared to advance east along the south coast after

 

consolidating their gains at Goose Green and allowing the men some rest. Their

 

objectives were the settlements of Fitzroy and Bluff Cove, the last occupied settlements

 

west of Port Stanley. On 1 June, as all detachment flew off to Swan Inlet, roughly half

 

the distance to the objective, to reconnoiter the terrain and determine what resistance

 

they might face at the objective. Swan Inlet possessed a telephone from which the

 

detachment could call Fitzroy, and the 2 Para commander was determined to see if that

 

link might be used to his advantage. A Falkland Islander in Fitzroy took the

 

detachment's call and reported that the Argentinians had just fled the settlement. The

 

opportunity to take the objective without opposition in one quick dash proved

 

irresistible, and by evening, two companies had been flown into Fitzroy in the surviving

 

Chinook helicopter.

 

At this juncture, 5 Brigade had arrived in San Carlos on Canberra from South

 

Georgia.* Anxious to get to the fight for a share of Port Stanley, the brigade began an

 

aborted foot march east shortly after their arrival. Poorly equipped** and unaccustomed

 

 

______________________

*5 Brigade arrived in South Georgia aboard Queen Elizabeth 2. Unwilling to risk the ocean liner to loss by enemy fire,

Whitehall directed that the brigade transfer to other shipping before sailing into Falkland Sound.

 

**3 Commando Brigade had helicopter priority at the time, being engaged in preparing positions and moving forward

to Mount Kent. 5 Brigade's vehicles were not as well prepared to handle the rough terrain as those of the Royal Marines.

 

 

to the weather and terrain, they returned to San Carlos before even reaching Goose

 

Green and embarked in amphibious assault ships.

 

For four days beginning 4 June, 5 Brigade was landed in Fitzroy to reinforce 2

 

Para. Argentine air attacks were becoming far less frequent by now, and this lulled the

 

task force into a false sense of security. While offloading men and equipment on 8 June,

 

HMS Sir Galahad HMS Tristram were hit by bombs dropped by four attack aircraft

 

that made an undetected approach. The assault vessels were well beyond the Royal

 

Navy's air umbrella, and fully exposed, were recklessly conducting their offload

 

operations in broad daylight. Forty-seven men perished in the ensuing fires, and a

 

number of others had to be evacuated back to San Carlos. Sir Galahad sank. To keep the

 

offensive against Port Stanley on schedule, 40 Commando detached two companies from

 

rear area security duties in San Carlos to reinforce 5 Brigade.

 

The two brigades now regrouped and prepared for an assault through the

 

mountains. The attack began on the evening of 11 June as 45 Commando attacked Two

 

Sisters and 42 Commando attacked Mount Harriet. As advancing British forces fought

 

their way east, Argentine resistance grew. 2 Para and 3 Para fought their way onto

 

Mount Longdon, and Tumbledown Mountain on 13 June, sustaining a number of

 

casualties. With good fire support for this assault, they were able to secure their

 

objectives on schedule despite the heavy Argentine resistance. By the morning of 14 June,

 

2 Para was in possession of Wireless Ridge, overlooking Port Stanley, its harbor, and the

 

Click here to view image

 

airfield further on. With the loss of the high ground and numerous casualties of their

 

own, exhausted and dejected Argentine soldiers were abandoning their positions and

 

running headlong back into Port Stanley, and resistance collapsed. Deserted by their

 

officers and without any means of resupply, the conscripts left to defend the approaches

 

to the town proved unequal to the task.

 

As lead elements of the commando brigade arrived on the outskirts of Port Stanley

 

at midday, General Menendez, the military governor of the occupation, agreed to a

 

ceasefire and a meeting with British commanders. His position was hopeless and he

 

realized that the outcome of the war could not be altered by continued resistance at this

 

stage. With reluctant permission from General Galtieri to act as he thought best, General

 

Menendez formally surrendered all Argentine forces in the islands that evening.

 

 

An Analysis

 

 

 

The campaign's objectives were simple and well-defined: deploy to the South

 

Atlantic, enforce the British Total Exclusion Zone around the Falkland Islands, land

 

forces to engage and defeat the Argentine garrison in the islands, and restore the colony's

 

legitimate government. The mission was clear to the commanders in the field and defense

 

authorities in Britain acknowledged the necessity of allowing the on-scene commander

 

to make critical decisions. Nevertheless, Whitehall reserved final approval authority on

 

most major decisions, and the principle commanders, Admiral Woodward, Commodore

 

Clapp, and Brigadier Thompson and their staffs spent a considerable amount time in

 

consultation with London via satellite secure voice as a result.

 

These conditions are hardly new to modern warfare; advanced satellite

 

communications permit a greater degree of political control over a campaign than was

 

formerly the case. The requirements placed upon Admiral Woodward were neither

 

unusual nor unreasonable, but Whitehall may have exercised more oversight over the task

 

force's activities than was necessary. During the campaign, commanders and their staffs

 

spent a lot of time just "answering the phone," and this certainly didn't assist them in

 

completing their mission, given the numerous tasks which occupied their attention each

 

day.

 

In terms of tactics and administrative decision-making, Admiral Woodward was

 

given broad authority and autonomy and was permitted to manage those aspects of the

 

campaign with little interference from fleet headquarters. Even so, some facets of the

 

campaign were directed by the government despite recommendations to the contrary

 

from the commanders. Of note, the recapture of South Georgia and Goose Green were

 

ordered for political reasons.* (The battle of Goose Green resulted in the greatest number

 

of British casualties in a single action: casualties that would have been avoided had the

 

landing force commander been permitted to bypass the settlement as he originally

 

intended. South Georgia, although retaken without loss of life, was nearly a disaster.

 

Two helicopters were lost in a blinding snowstorm,** and the surface action group came

 

within an hour of having to fight a submerged Argentine submarine.) Both of these

 

actions raised morale and reinforced domestic support for the government, but a defeat

 

in either could have set the campaign back enough to prolong it beyond the task force's

 

ability to prevail before reaching a mid-winter culminating point.

 

The decision to control submarine missions and movements from London was

 

unfortunate. Admiral Woodward had embarked a submarine officer in Hermes to serve

 

as a local submarine operating authority. Giving him that flexibility would have

 

considerably simplified the command structure and shortened the length of time required

 

______________________

*Neither of these intermediate objectives were originally identified for recapture prior to the liberation of Port Stanley.

The task force commander regarded South Georgia as a risky adventure against a strategically insignificant target at a time when

resources were a major concern. In the case of Goose Green and Darwin, the landing force commander intended to bypass those

settlements enroute the capital. In both cases, the government insisted on operations against these objectives, probably to garner

international support, boost popular morale, and demonstrate success to the political opposition in Parliament.

 

**The occupants were all rescued.

 

 

to call for support from below. For example, the sinking of the Argentine cruiser was

 

delayed for several hours as a result of this control from London. In this instance, the

 

task force commander knew that Conqueror was trailing the warship and was concerned

 

over the possibility of the ship's escape over a shallow bank where Conqueror would have

 

been unable to follow. Having recognized the tactics then being employed by the

 

Argentine fleet, he should have had the authority to order an immediate attack. An

 

embarked submarine operating authority would have added considerable flexibility and

 

greatly shortened the length of time required for decision-making.*

 

Within the task force, command and control was a complex problem. HMS

 

Fearless alone had to maintain 36 radio nets and process more than 3500 outgoing

 

messages daily during landing operations in San Carlos.6 The sheer volume of that

 

message traffic is impressive and would have taxed the ability of any modest-sized shore

 

facility. The electronic hubbub must have been fairly distracting to the watch in flag

 

plot, and undoubtedly kept the commodore and his principle staff officers quite busy.

 

One unintended consequence of the task force's communications structure was

 

a disregard for operational security. To begin with, Argentine forces were able to localize

 

and track the carriers throughout most of the war through communications intercepts.

 

That the carriers were enroute the Falklands and later in the general area was no great

 

_________________

*Submarines are wary of any attempt on the part of non-submariners to control their movements. It is only recently

that the U.S. Navy has started experimenting with a local submarine operating authority embarked in an aircraft carrier and

attached to the battle group commander's staff. It remains a controversial idea.

 

 

secret; the press regularly received briefings on the general activity of the task force.

 

Soviet reconnaissance aircraft tracked the task force's movements to Ascension Island,

 

and Argentine reconnaissance aircraft tracked it thereafter. Even so, the electronic noise

 

generated by the battle group served as a beacon that simplified the Argentine Air Force's

 

targeting problem in their May 4 attack on HMS Sheffield.

 

Finally, the command, control, and communications structure was complex

 

enough that some Sea Harrier pilots deliberately avoided flying though Sea Dart

 

engagement envelopes when returning to the force. Fearful of being mistaken for

 

inbound Argentine jets, pilots obviously had less than full faith in the surface force's

 

deconfliction capability.

 

Another important area in which the British found themselves unprepared was

 

in their intelligence preparation. Constrained by limited funding in the decade prior to

 

the invasion, most of Britain's intelligence assets were directed against their most likely

 

opponent the Warsaw Pact. When the task force sailed from Portsmouth and Gibraltar,

 

their primary source of data on the Argentine fleet was Jane's Fighting Ships. Little was

 

known beyond the statistical facts presented therein, and the intelligence services had not

 

even picked up on the fact that one of the Argentine submarines was not seaworthy. The

 

task force and intelligence services back in the United Kingdom undoubtedly undertook

 

a crash program to build a database on the Argentine military in early April, but by then,

 

they were already in action against the enemy about whom they were trying to collect

 

information.

 

In terms of local intelligence and tactical reconnaissance in the Falkland Islands

 

themselves, the British had a clear advantage. Among the Royal Marines in 3 Commando

 

Brigade were a small number that had been stationed in the islands before the invasion,

 

including one officer who had done some detailed navigation studies some years before.*

 

The marines were detailed into as many different units as possible in order to provide

 

local knowledge to battalion and company commanders.7

 

From the very day that the British carriers arrived in the exclusion zone, SAS

 

patrols were making regular visits to key locations ashore to reconnoiter the enemy's

 

strength, disposition, and capabilities. The information provided by these clandestine

 

missions aided the commanders in making the decision to land at San Carlos, and later

 

sped the brigade's rapid eastward advance at the end of May. Their only failure occurred

 

at Goose Green, when 2 Para advanced on the settlement based on dated information

 

obtained before the Argentinian reinforcement.

 

Finally, the islanders themselves provided key information at critical moments,

 

such as the farmer in Fitzroy who related by telephone that the Argentinians had just

 

departed that settlement. As a result of this windfall of information, 2 Para flew

 

immediately into Fitzroy, exploiting a tactical advantage, and secured the forward

 

 

___________________

*Major Southby-Tailyour was a yachtsman who knew the islands well. Brigadier Thompson made extensive use of

his knowledge and experience in every phase of the campaign.

 

 

position without casualties.

 

Intelligence, then, was lacking in the early stages of the campaign, but for the most

 

part was excellent once the landing force was ashore. The British government was able

 

to make up for the initial shortfall, in part, by drawing on the resources of its allies

 

through long-established channels, and by gathering it in combat once the task force was

 

in theater. Long-standing arrangements between the United States and Great Britain on

 

the cooperation and exchange of intelligence within the structure of existing

 

organizational relationships and procedures afforded the British Ministry of Defense easy

 

access to intelligence that would not have been so accessible to other allies in a similar

 

crisis. Even as the United States played a neutral role in the first month of the war, a

 

constant flow of data on Argentine dispositions and movements was quietly finding its

 

way to Great Britain through these channels.8 Signals and photographic intelligence

 

of the most sensitive nature was collected by American satellites, aircraft, and intercept

 

stations throughout the conflict and provided to London.9

 

The lack of airborne early warning aircraft handicapped the task force in its efforts

 

to defend itself and friendly shipping from air attack. These aircraft typically extend the

 

anti-air detection range of a battle group more than 200 miles when stationed along the

 

threat axis. That capability would have allowed the task force to detect and track

 

inbound Argentinian raids in real time from their air bases on the continent.

 

Unfortunately, the earliest warning usually came when a picket ship of the task force

 

detected the fire control radar of the approaching aircraft, too late in modern warfare to

 

prevent the enemy from firing his weapons. An early detection capability would have

 

allowed a Sea Harrier on combat air patrol to intercept the inbound flight before it

 

reached its weapons release point. Even if that failed, a remote data link track from an

 

early warning platform would have given surface ships a narrower search gate for their

 

Sea Dart and Sea Wolf missile systems, speeding up target acquisition and improving the

 

odds of achieving a kill.

 

Lacking the airborne early warning capability, the amphibious task force

 

commander was forced to select a landing beach where the terrain could offer some

 

protection to his shipping. Falkland Sound and San Carlos Water were ideal for masking

 

the ships, and the mountainous terrain surrounding the beachhead forced the Argentinian

 

planes to engage the amphibious group at close proximity with conventional ordnance,

 

giving them a window of only a few seconds in which to identify and attack a target. The

 

terrain masking worked both ways, however. The picket destroyers in Falkland Sound

 

had only a brief opportunity to engage the raiders, normally with their point defense

 

systems, before the attacking aircraft were gone. During the five days following the

 

amphibious landings at San Carlos, there were frequent gun duels between aircraft and

 

surface ships, and most of the losses sustained in combat by both sides occurred during

 

this phase.

 

The Falklands Campaign presented Great Britain with a logistician's nightmare.

 

No objective in the world was as remote or as disadvantageously placed. The theater of

 

operations was 8000 miles from Great Britain and nearly 4000 miles from the support

 

facilities on Ascension Island. The entire task force and landing force had to be supplied

 

and supported at that distance for three months. Ships and aircraft suffering equipment

 

casualties didn't have access to the logistic and maintenance facilities to which they were

 

accustomed when operating closer to home. Replacements for equipment lost in action

 

required weeks to bring into theater. Additionally, these conditions were imposed on the

 

task force during the South Atlantic winter, typically unforgiving and severe. In sharp

 

contrast, the Argentinians were operating close to home and using modern (if slightly

 

dated) weapons purchased form the United States and her allies. In theory, she could

 

bring viable combat forces into the theater or withdraw them as she chose on short

 

notice.

 

One of the most important aspects of the logistic effort was the use of Ascension

 

Island and the airfield there. From the first hours of the campaign, the island was critical

 

to the resupply effort. (The problem was that the island is leased to the United States in

 

the same manner as Diego Garcia, and the U. S. Air Force operates and maintains the

 

airfield. The United States, however, was officially neutral and actively involved in

 

seeking a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The USAF colonel in charge of the airfield

 

was therefore ordered to render what services he could to the British forces, but not to

 

be caught doing so.10 Within days of the invasion, the island was rapidly transformed

 

into a major forward logistics base.

 

During the first days of April, airlift played a vital role in moving men and stores

 

to Ascension Island to marry them with the task force. This effort cannot be understated;

 

the task force deployed so suddenly that some ships were not prepared for sustained

 

combat operations at sea. During the month of April, the Royal Air Force moved 5800

 

men and 6600 tons of stores to Ascension, without which a significant delay in the

 

operation could not have been avoided.

 

Airlift continued to play an important role throughout the campaign. Urgently

 

needed materials could be air dropped to the task force at sea, but the aerial refueling

 

requirement, twenty-five hour round trip, and bad weather dictated this course of action

 

for only the gravest of necessities.

 

The majority of all men and material transported to the theater arrived by sealift

 

from Ascension Island or the British Isles. The sealift effort proved to be an undertaking

 

of enormous proportions, requiring the British merchant fleet to be pressed into service

 

on short notice. The success of the STUFT program is among the principle factors in the

 

British success, for it was key to their ability to deliver supplies and reinforcements as and

 

when needed. Since there was a lack of storage facilities in theater until the end of the

 

war, logistic support had to be exactly synchronized with need. Additionally, the superb

 

partnership between the defense ministry and domestic industry led to a unified national

 

war effort, and was every bit as much responsible for the success as the individual services,

 

ships, planes, and battalions.

 

The last major factor contributing to British success was the asymmetry of forces

 

and technology between the opposing sides. This is perhaps one modern conflict in

 

which technology not only played a significant role, it probably tipped the balance in

 

favor of the numerically weaker force. To a lesser degree, but no less important, the

 

superior leadership of commanders in the Royal Marines had no equal in the Argentine

 

ranks.

 

The outcome of the Falklands campaign was ultimately decided at sea and in the

 

air. While the courage and audacity of the soldiers and marines was responsible for the

 

success of the land campaign, their ability to get ashore with their supplies and equipment

 

would have been impossible without the air and sea superiority established by the task

 

force. At sea, it was the nuclear attack submarines that attained sea control for the task

 

force. The submarines' advantage in being able to operate submerged for months at a

 

time to avoid detection, and to sustain submerged transits at high speeds was crucial to

 

their success first in attacking General Belgrano, then in bottling up the Argentine fleet.

 

In the air, the Sea Harrier/Sidewinder combination proved far superior to the older

 

Argentine Skyhawks. The advantage came principally from the missile's ability to engage

 

an enemy aircraft in any aspect, from beyond the range of the Argentine Skyhawks,

 

Daggers, and Mirages. By the end of the campaign, Sea Harriers and GR-3's* had shot

 

down 32 of the 73 Argentine aircraft destroyed in the campaign.*

 

The technological mismatch between the two sides was significant, and eventually

 

nullified the greater numbers of ships, aircraft, and soldiers the Argentines had in theater.

 

The mismatch in training and leadership between the ground forces was chiefly

 

responsible for the Argentine defeat on the ground. Despite the technological advantages

 

brought to the battlefield by the British, Argentine forces in Port Stanley could have held

 

out against the British for months. They were well supplied in terms of ammunition,

 

armament, clothing and food. They held the high ground in the mountains around the

 

city and could have rained steel on the advancing forces at will. Eventually, the outcome

 

might have been different had British forces fought a prolonged winter campaign.

 

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are structured much the same as their

 

American counterparts, and training is similar. Leadership, from flag officers down, is

 

applied at the front, not from the rear. The individual sailors, soldiers, and marines were

 

all volunteers and had a clear vision of why they were fighting and of the importance

 

their nation placed upon their service. The Argentine forces offered a stark contrast,

 

however.

 

To begin with, most of the Argentine occupation force was comprised of young

 

 

_____________________________

*The Royal Air Force version of the Sea Harrier, which flew from a fabricated airfield at San Carlos after the beachhead

was secured.

 

*73 is the number actually confirmed and includes those aircraft destroyed on the ground or shot down by surface

ships.

 

 

conscripts that were poorly led. Although the soldiers understood their mission and had

 

the support of Argentina's population, most knew nothing of the political or military

 

situation beyond their immediate posts, and had no appreciation for the forces they were

 

fighting. Many (but not all) of their officers tended to lead from the rear, leaving them

 

under the harsh discipline imposed by the career non-commissioned officers. (Soldiers

 

caught abandoning their positions were sometimes shot at, and were even made to sit

 

with their bare feet immersed in icy water for long periods of time.)

 

During the final weeks of the campaign, senior officers rarely ventured out of Port

 

Stanley, and were generally quartered and fed in far better circumstances than their men.

 

To many of them, it was a simple matter to issue orders and expect the non-

 

commissioned officers to enforce them. Most significantly, there was an appalling lack

 

of interest on the part of these officers to see to their soldiers' most basic needs. Men at

 

the front were unable to obtain food and other essentials during this period, even as it was

 

readily available at supply depots in town. Their hunger and misery robbed them of any

 

motivation to stand and fight as the British approached, and many simply abandoned

 

their positions to forage for supplies.

 

In summary, a combination of widely varied factors led the British to success in

 

a campaign that few ever envisioned undertaking, and that they should probably have

 

lost, all things being equal. In the end, its success was the result of a national effort,

 

capably unified at the political and strategic level. The full commitment of the British

 

people to rescue their brethren from military occupation was the only thing that could

 

counter the long list of disadvantages they faced at the start of the enterprise.

 

 

Some Important Lessons for the United States

 

 

 

Why does the Falklands War merit another review a decade after the publication

 

of several "lessons learned" treatises on both sides of the Atlantic? In that time, we have

 

changed our focus from an open ocean war at sea to a war in the littorals, and can use the

 

campaign as an excellent model and test case for our new maritime strategy.

 

The U.S. Navy recently published its white paper "...From the Sea" that detailed

 

the concept that our naval forces must be able to operate in the next conflict much in the

 

same manner as the Royal Navy did in 1982: in a remote littoral area with joint

 

expeditionary forces derived from assets available on short notice. Today's force

 

reductions and the ongoing debate on future force structure are somewhat reminiscent

 

of an identical process that occurred nearly twenty years ago in Great Britain. Decisions

 

taken then had a profound impact on Britain's ability to deploy forces in combat by the

 

time of the Argentine invasion.

 

The Falklands War serves as an excellent model for the type of campaign

 

envisioned by the authors of the Navy's white paper. The author of this case study

 

readily concedes that the British faced a unique problem in the remoteness of their theater

 

of operations. While we cannot foresee having to operate under identical circumstances,

 

we should not dismiss consideration of the problem just because we have no overseas

 

territorial disputes. Just as we could not anticipate the Gulf War in 1990, we must realize

 

that we cannot predict when or where the next conflict will occur.

 

Finally, it is worth noting that the U.S. Navy's experience in littoral campaigning

 

during the last fifty years is devoid of air opposition to the ships of the battle groups and

 

amphibious task forces. Air superiority has always been the province of our aircraft

 

carriers and the sophisticated fighters they embark. We nevertheless acknowledge the

 

danger and prepare for it, but we have never had to go into action against a nation that

 

mounted as determined an anti-naval air campaign as did the Argentine Air Force against

 

the British task force.

 

As previously discussed, the British task force's greatest vulnerability during the

 

campaign was the lack of an airborne early warning system. The Royal Navy, operating

 

in the North Atlantic during a NATO/Warsaw Pact conflict, would have had ready

 

access to shore-based assets such as an E-3 AWACS or a Nimrod naval reconnaissance

 

aircraft via digital data link. In the South Atlantic, the nearest friendly airfield on

 

Ascension Island was too distant for shore-based patrol aircraft to support the task force.

 

The Royal Navy did what it does best when confronted with such a problem. It

 

improvised. The nuclear attack submarines took station off the Argentine coast to

 

monitor the radio communications of departing air activity. A message by satellite back

 

to fleet headquarters at Northwood served as the first indication that an air raid was

 

enroute the Falklands. (Some months later, some Sea King helicopters were equipped

 

with an externally-mounted search radar. The result was a low altitude system that could

 

extend the initial detection range of a task force's air defenses. While it was not a perfect

 

solution and offered but a fraction of the capability of a higher altitude system, this low

 

altitude system would buy additional time for the battle group's air defenses and cue

 

inbound raids to air controllers working with Sea Harriers on combat air patrol.)

 

The U.S. Navy's carrier-based E-2 aircraft would have provided a sufficient

 

detection and tracking capability to the task force, and performs well in our battle groups

 

today. Unfortunately, this air frame is aging and will have to be replaced in the fleet early

 

in the next century. Current plans to produce updated versions of the aircraft will bridge

 

the gap and extend the life of that capability, but we should be planning now for the next

 

generation of airborne early warning aircraft, and should spare no reasonable expense in

 

producing a flexible multi-mission aircraft. Finally, we must reconsider the trend to limit

 

carrier air wings to only four of these aircraft. Carrier air wings should deploy with a

 

sufficient number that one of these aircraft can always remain airborne.

 

In considering the future of our submarine fleet, we should reexamine the effect

 

that submarine warfare had on both the Argentine and British war efforts, and draw on

 

the obvious lessons from that chapter of the war. Six British submarines were eventually

 

deployed in theater, and their contribution to establishing maritime supremacy proved

 

to be the most significant of all the ships and forces sent to the South Atlantic.

 

To begin with, the threat posed by submarines was sufficient to halt the seaborne

 

resupply of the Argentine garrison. The mere perception that British submarines were

 

operating at will was deterrence enough. In the week following the invasion, Argentine

 

ships delivered tons of supplies and weapons to the occupation forces, turning Port

 

Stanley into a virtual fortress within a matter of days. When the British declared the total

 

exclusion zone around the islands, these supply runs from the mainland stopped

 

immediately. The first nuclear attack submarine arrived in theater on April 12, on the

 

day the exclusion zone became operative, following a high speed submerged transit from

 

Gibraltar. Argentine resupply of the occupation forces from then on was undertaken by

 

daily C-130 flights, as it was too risky to continue sealift operations.

 

HMS Conqueror's sinking of General Belgrano resulted in the removal of the

 

Argentine Navy from the war. The Argentine fleet retreated into the safety of mainland

 

harbors early in the conflict, never to venture back into the war zone. Since naval sorties

 

could be immediately detected by British submarines patrolling off the coast, a

 

comparatively small force succeeded in bottling up the entire Argentine surface fleet. The

 

cost effectiveness of this portion of the campaign is incalculable, to say nothing of the

 

lives and equipment potentially saved from attack.

 

Three of the four Argentine submarines saw action during the war, but one of

 

these was disabled and captured during the recapture of South Georgia. The remaining

 

two apparently operated at will during the campaign. After the war, the captain of one

 

of these submarines claimed to have located and attacked a British carrier, but the torpedo

 

had failed to detonate. Although his claim has never been substantiated, fear of the

 

Argentine submarines did play a major role in the selection of the landing beach for the

 

amphibious assault San Carlos was chosen, among other reasons, for the Falkland

 

Sound's relative shelter and safety from submerged attack.

 

Finally, the British surface fleet expended a large number of torpedoes and depth

 

charges prosecuting invalid targets. The shallow water antisubmarine warfare problem

 

is one of the toughest nuts to crack in warfare at sea, particularly against a diesel-electric

 

boat operating close to its base. The noise reverberations and echoes of scattered lower

 

frequency sonar transmissions inherent in shallow water makes it easy for a submarine

 

on quiet running to evade detection in that environment. The threat posed by the

 

Argentine submarines was enough to cause considerable caution in Royal Navy surface

 

operations, and nearly led to weapons depletion on some ships.

 

The lesson is simple: attack submarines or the threat thereof provide a flexible

 

deterrent against enemy naval surface forces, and can be invaluable in enforcing an

 

exclusion zone. As we periodically debate the need for expensive attack boats, we should

 

recall their brilliant use in the South Atlantic. Turning away from the specific question

 

of the Seawolf submarine's necessity, we must acknowledge that sophisticated nuclear

 

attack submarines are worth their expense, and should continue to receive funding.

 

Aircraft carriers come under frequent criticism for their expense and unsuitability

 

in a shallow water environment. A number of "supercarrier" detractors argue that

 

smaller, conventionally-powered carriers would be more cost effective and better suited

 

to a "...From the Sea" type of operation. Let's consider the lessons of the Falklands.

 

The air power brought by the Royal Navy was barely adequate for the task, and

 

would have proven inadequate in a longer campaign. Hermes and Invincible arrived with

 

only twenty Sea Harriers between them. Two "supercarriers" with standard air wings

 

embarked would have arrived with 140-150 fixed-wing aircraft, counting the airborne

 

early warning planes (E-2C), the antisubmarine and reconnaissance aircraft (S-3A, S-3B),

 

and electronic warfare platforms (EA-6B). The increased capability and flexibility of the

 

supercarrier requires no further discussion. Viewed another way, a single large deck

 

carrier would have accommodated sixty Sea Harriers at less than twice the tonnage.

 

Advocates of small deck carriers can argue their cost effectiveness in building and

 

maintenance, but supercarriers still provide more combat power per ton. In planning

 

future shipbuilding programs, we should remember that a full air wing provides a

 

measure of power, flexibility, and capability in wartime that cannot be duplicated by

 

larger numbers of smaller carriers. In the final analysis, the additional costs of

 

maintaining larger air wings will more than offset the costs of replacing surface

 

combatants and supply ships (and their cargo).

 

Regardless of the size of the carrier and air wing, one very important lesson of the

 

conflict is the absolute need for air cover over the amphibious forces. Although Sea

 

Harriers performed superbly in this role, pilots were flying three or four missions a day

 

with little time for rest or aircraft maintenance. Had the landings taken longer or if the

 

British had begun losing large numbers of aircraft, they would have been unable to sustain

 

that air cover. Again, a larger deck carrier with a full air wing can more readily provide

 

the flexibility, to say nothing of force sustainment, necessary to defend the amphibious

 

operating area for a prolonged period of time.

 

During the Falklands War, British forces occasionally found themselves up against

 

weapons of British manufacture, such as the Type 42 destroyers. The conflict reminds

 

us that in this era of arms proliferation, we must always maintain an ability to counter

 

and defeat our own weapons if turned against us. (For example, the Iranians fired a

 

Harpoon missile against a ship of the Middle East Force in 1988. The missile failed to

 

acquire its target and landed harmlessly a few miles from one of our cruisers.) Now that

 

we are building and selling more sophisticated anti-ship, anti-aircraft, and anti-tank

 

weapons systems, we must have the capability of defeating them lest they end up in

 

unfriendly hands.

 

We must take care not to fall into the same intelligence trap our British allies did.

 

We dismantled a portion of our overseas intelligence apparatus a few years ago in favor

 

of funding exotic satellite systems that can do wondrous things, but are themselves

 

vulnerable to deception and have a limited time over their target. We must maintain a

 

well-balanced collection and analysis capability, and actively employ it against all

 

potential adversaries, not just the most likely ones. We would be ill-served indeed if we

 

found ourselves preparing for war against a nation for which we had little information

 

or data.

 

The problem of mine warfare has been addressed in recent years by the U.S. Navy,

 

and we are currently building two new classes of mine hunting vessels and deploying

 

helicopters that can trail minesweeping equipment while airborne. The lessons of the

 

Gulf War reinforce the British experience in the Falklands: an inadequate mine detection

 

and neutralization capability is as dangerous as the lack of an anti-air warfare capability.

 

Using a frigate to test the waters near the landing site in San Carlos might have been the

 

best option under the circumstances in 1982, but in general, it is not a cost effective means

 

of sweeping a minefield. The damage done to USS Princeton and USS Tripoli during the

 

Gulf War serve as pointed reminders of the dangers associated with underfunding

 

important programs or providing the necessary assets to naval commanders in a war zone.

 

The current mine warfare programs underway in the U.S. Navy will support operations

 

described in the Navy's white paper, but only if sufficient time and sealift are available

 

to bring these vessels and aircraft into theater before commencing assault operations.

 

Finally, we must ensure continued access to the level of logistic support we

 

successfully mobilized for the Gulf War, including adequate sealift. The Falklands

 

Campaign is an excellent model for the extraordinary cooperation between the military

 

and domestic industry that will be needed for the type of campaign envisioned by

 

"...From the Sea." Their success in 1982 was the result of their ability to rapidly mobilize

 

shipping and aircraft for the movement of men and supplies to a theater 8000 miles away.

 

Similarly, our success in the Gulf War came from the same ability. We must continue to

 

maintain that capability or we will find ourselves incapable of repeating the successes of

 

either of those two campaigns.

 

In conclusion, there are a number of direct parallels between the British experience

 

and the kinds of action for which our armed forces are now preparing. We would do well

 

to revisit the Falklands Campaign every few years to ensure that its lessons are not

 

forgotten.

 

 

Endnotes

 

 

 

1. This account follows Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, The Battle For The Falklands, pp. 1-60, and Martin

Middlebrook, Operation Corporate: The Falklands War, 1982.

 

2. Mr. Neville Trotter, MP. Conference on the Lessons of the South Atlantic War, 2-3 September 1982, Royal

Aeronautical Society, London.

 

3. Admiral Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992), p. 55.

 

4. Ibid., pp. 140-141.

 

5. Major General Nick Vaux, RM, Take That Hill! (London: Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1986), p. 96.

 

6. Mr. Neville Trotter, MP. Conference on the Lessons of the South Atlantic War, 2-3 September 1982, Royal

Aeronautical Society, London.

 

7. Major General John Frost, 2 Para Falklands: The Battalion at War. (London: The Penguin Group, 1983), p.46.

 

8. Brigadier Julian Thompson, No Picnic. (London: Leo Cooper, 1985), p. 86.

 

9. Mr. Neville Trotter, MP. Conference on the Lessons of the South Atlantic War, 2-3 September 1982, Royal

Aeronautical Society, London.

 

10. Major John Leigh, RM.

 

11. John Lehman, Jr., Command of the Seas: Building The 600 Ship Navy. (New York: Macmillan, 1988), pp. 274-

275.

 

12. Jeffrey Richelson and Desmond Ball, The Ties That Bind (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), p. 304.

 

13. Admiral Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992), pp. 86-87.

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

 

 

 

 

The maps shown on pp. 21, 27, 31, 39, and 42 are by Reginald Piggot and come

from Operation Corporate: The Falklands War, 1982 by Martin Middlebrook.

 

The maps shown on pp. 45 and 73 come from The Battle For The Falklands,

by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins.

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

1. Baker, Arthur David, personal notes.

 

2. Brown, David, The Royal Navy and The Falklands War. London: Arrow Ltd., 1987.

 

3. Dunn, LT COL Richard C., Operation Corporate: Operational Artist's View of the Falkland

Islands Conflict. Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College, 1993.

 

4. Eddy, Paul et al, War in The Falklands. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

 

5. Frost, MGEN John, 2 Para Falklands: The Battalion At War. London: Sphere Books Ltd., 1984.

 

6. Hastings, Max and Simon Jenkins, The Battle For The Falklands. New York: Norton & Co., 1983.

 

7. Hogan, LTC Thomas R.,, No Shells. No Attack! The Use of Fire Support by 3 Commando

Brigade Royal Marines During the 1982 Falkland Islands War. Carlisle Barracks,

Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College, 1989.

 

8. Korkin, COL Robert A. & COL Bruce A. Sanders, Falkland Islands - War for National

Sovereignty. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University, 1985.

 

9. Lehman, John F. Jr, Command Of The Seas: Building The 600 Ship Navy. New York: Macmillan,

1988.

 

10. McManners, CPT Hugh, Falklands Commando. London: William Kimber & Co. Ltd., 1984.

 

11. Middlebrook, Martin, Operation Corporate: The Falklands War, 1982. London: Penguin Books

Ltd., 1985.

 

12. Oxford, MAJ Donald G., Command and Control Considerations for Amphibious Operations in

Limited Warfare. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1990.

 

13. Perrett, Bryan, Weapons of the Falklands Conflict. New York: Sterling, 1982.

 

14. Richelson, Jeffrey and Desmond Ball, The Ties That Bind. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

 

15. Thompson, Julian, No Picnic. London: Leo Cooper, 1985.

 

16. Vaux, MGEN Nick, Take That Hill! Royal Marines in the Falklands War. London: Buchan &

Enright Publishers Ltd., 1986.

 

17. Watson, Bruce W. & Peter M. Dunn, ed. Military Lessons of the Falkland Islands War: Views

from the United States. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1984.

 

18. Woodward, ADM Sandy, One Hundred Days. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982.

 

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