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

For The United States Today.

CSC 1995


The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982:

A Case Study and Lessons For The

United States Today

LCDR Andrew A. King

Executive Summary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantic more than twenty years ago.

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

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

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

Table of Contents

Executive Summary ii

Outline iv

An Unexpected War 1

Historical Origins 3

The Campaign 9

An Analysis 47

Some Important Lessons for the United States 60

Endnotes 69

Acknowledgements 70

Bibliography 71

Map of the Falkland Islands 73

The Falkland Islands Campaign of 1982:

A Case Study and Lessons For The United States Today


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

Falkland Islands.

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

recapture the islands.

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

2. RADM Woodward was appointed task force commander.

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

early deployment of its submarine force leveled the playing field.

C. South Georgia was recaptured on 25 April.

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

1. The Argentine Navy attempted a coordinated attack against

the British carriers, but was unable to execute it.

2. HMS Conqueror found one of the Argentine surface action

groups and sank ARA General Belgrano.

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

attacked and sank HMS Sheffield to recover the Navy's

honor and attempt a crippling blow to the carriers.

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


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

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

equipment and all of the men were ashore.

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

facilitate the invasion.

2. The landings were marred by Argentine air attacks.

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

with it to the bottom.

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

Port Stanley.

1. 3 Para recaptured Teal Inlet.

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

day battle.

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

14 June.

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

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

1. Some control over the task force was exercised from


2. RADM Woodward was encumbered by his inability to

direct the Royal Navy's submarines operating in theater.

3. Communications were a problem for volume and

compromising operational security.

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

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

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

made it work.

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

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

campaign, particularly with our new focus on littoral warfare.

An Unexpected War

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

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

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

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

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

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

to recapture the islands and restore the rule of law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

begin making preparations for a campaign to recapture her colony.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Origins

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

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

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

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

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

happy to leave the cold, wind-swept rocks.

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

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

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

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

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