The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982: A Case Study And Lessons
For The United States Today.
SUBJECT AREA - History
The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982:
A Case Study and Lessons For The
United States Today
LCDR Andrew A. King
Title: The Falklands Campaign of 1982: A Case Study and Lessons for the United States
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
An Unexpected War 1
Historical Origins 3
The Campaign 9
An Analysis 47
Some Important Lessons for the United States 60
Map of the Falkland Islands 73
The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982:
A Case Study and Lessons For The United States Today
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-
A. Defense cuts had reduced the Royal Navy's ability to project power
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
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
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
1. 3 Para recaptured Teal Inlet.
2. 2 Para recaptured Darwin and Goose Green following a two
H. Reinforced by 5 Brigade, the land forces recaptured Port Stanley on
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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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
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
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
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.
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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
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
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.
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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
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
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
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
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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
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
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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
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
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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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
*73 is the number actually confirmed and includes those aircraft destroyed on the ground or shot down by surface
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
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
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
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-
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.
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.
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,
10. McManners, CPT Hugh, Falklands Commando. London: William Kimber & Co. Ltd., 1984.
11. Middlebrook, Martin, Operation Corporate: The Falklands War, 1982. London: Penguin Books
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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