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

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

For The United States Today.


CSC 1995






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


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


respective claims.


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


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


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




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

at the heart of contemporary Argentine claims.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


to Argentina.


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


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


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


that the islands would again be Argentine one day.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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.



The Campaign




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


underway even before the invasion itself.


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


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


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


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


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


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


the seat of local government.




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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


attack boats.


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


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


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




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


attack her.


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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

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

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

formal change in policy.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


leaving it sidelined for the remainder of the war.


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


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


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


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




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

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

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

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




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


of action.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


landing was occurring there.



*See map, p. 31.


Click here to view image


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


plan ashore.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


counterattack against the numerically inferior British force.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The amphibious task force commander and landing force commander were forced



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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


advance toward Port Stanley was slowed considerably.


Another factor which challenged the British in their advance was deteriorating


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


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


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


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


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


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


the lack of adequate roads.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


colony's second largest settlement.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


a frontal ground assault.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Argentines laid minefields and prepared defensive positions overlooking the open ground


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


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


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


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


Click here to view image


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


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


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


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


available, this was a laborious process.


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


to surrender to a force barely one third their number.


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


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


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


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


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


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


drive the British to their culmination point.


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


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


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


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


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


the west, from which the British were advancing.


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


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


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


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


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


Click here to view image


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


had been conceded to the British.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Chinook helicopter.


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


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


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




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

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


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

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



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


Green and embarked in amphibious assault ships.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Click here to view image


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


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


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


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


to the town proved unequal to the task.


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


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


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


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


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


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



An Analysis




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


consultation with London via satellite secure voice as a result.


These conditions are hardly new to modern warfare; advanced satellite


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


campaign were directed by the government despite recommendations to the contrary


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The decision to control submarine missions and movements from London was


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


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


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



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

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

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

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

international support, boost popular morale, and demonstrate success to the political opposition in Parliament.


**The occupants were all rescued.



to call for support from below. For example, the sinking of the Argentine cruiser was


delayed for several hours as a result of this control from London. In this instance, the


task force commander knew that Conqueror was trailing the warship and was concerned


over the possibility of the ship's escape over a shallow bank where Conqueror would have


been unable to follow. Having recognized the tactics then being employed by the


Argentine fleet, he should have had the authority to order an immediate attack. An


embarked submarine operating authority would have added considerable flexibility and


greatly shortened the length of time required for decision-making.*


Within the task force, command and control was a complex problem. HMS


Fearless alone had to maintain 36 radio nets and process more than 3500 outgoing


messages daily during landing operations in San Carlos.6 The sheer volume of that


message traffic is impressive and would have taxed the ability of any modest-sized shore


facility. The electronic hubbub must have been fairly distracting to the watch in flag


plot, and undoubtedly kept the commodore and his principle staff officers quite busy.


One unintended consequence of the task force's communications structure was


a disregard for operational security. To begin with, Argentine forces were able to localize


and track the carriers throughout most of the war through communications intercepts.


That the carriers were enroute the Falklands and later in the general area was no great



*Submarines are wary of any attempt on the part of non-submariners to control their movements. It is only recently

that the U.S. Navy has started experimenting with a local submarine operating authority embarked in an aircraft carrier and

attached to the battle group commander's staff. It remains a controversial idea.



secret; the press regularly received briefings on the general activity of the task force.


Soviet reconnaissance aircraft tracked the task force's movements to Ascension Island,


and Argentine reconnaissance aircraft tracked it thereafter. Even so, the electronic noise


generated by the battle group served as a beacon that simplified the Argentine Air Force's


targeting problem in their May 4 attack on HMS Sheffield.


Finally, the command, control, and communications structure was complex


enough that some Sea Harrier pilots deliberately avoided flying though Sea Dart


engagement envelopes when returning to the force. Fearful of being mistaken for


inbound Argentine jets, pilots obviously had less than full faith in the surface force's


deconfliction capability.


Another important area in which the British found themselves unprepared was


in their intelligence preparation. Constrained by limited funding in the decade prior to


the invasion, most of Britain's intelligence assets were directed against their most likely


opponent the Warsaw Pact. When the task force sailed from Portsmouth and Gibraltar,


their primary source of data on the Argentine fleet was Jane's Fighting Ships. Little was


known beyond the statistical facts presented therein, and the intelligence services had not


even picked up on the fact that one of the Argentine submarines was not seaworthy. The


task force and intelligence services back in the United Kingdom undoubtedly undertook


a crash program to build a database on the Argentine military in early April, but by then,


they were already in action against the enemy about whom they were trying to collect




In terms of local intelligence and tactical reconnaissance in the Falkland Islands


themselves, the British had a clear advantage. Among the Royal Marines in 3 Commando


Brigade were a small number that had been stationed in the islands before the invasion,


including one officer who had done some detailed navigation studies some years before.*


The marines were detailed into as many different units as possible in order to provide


local knowledge to battalion and company commanders.7


From the very day that the British carriers arrived in the exclusion zone, SAS


patrols were making regular visits to key locations ashore to reconnoiter the enemy's


strength, disposition, and capabilities. The information provided by these clandestine


missions aided the commanders in making the decision to land at San Carlos, and later


sped the brigade's rapid eastward advance at the end of May. Their only failure occurred


at Goose Green, when 2 Para advanced on the settlement based on dated information


obtained before the Argentinian reinforcement.


Finally, the islanders themselves provided key information at critical moments,


such as the farmer in Fitzroy who related by telephone that the Argentinians had just


departed that settlement. As a result of this windfall of information, 2 Para flew


immediately into Fitzroy, exploiting a tactical advantage, and secured the forward




*Major Southby-Tailyour was a yachtsman who knew the islands well. Brigadier Thompson made extensive use of

his knowledge and experience in every phase of the campaign.



position without casualties.


Intelligence, then, was lacking in the early stages of the campaign, but for the most


part was excellent once the landing force was ashore. The British government was able


to make up for the initial shortfall, in part, by drawing on the resources of its allies


through long-established channels, and by gathering it in combat once the task force was


in theater. Long-standing arrangements between the United States and Great Britain on


the cooperation and exchange of intelligence within the structure of existing


organizational relationships and procedures afforded the British Ministry of Defense easy


access to intelligence that would not have been so accessible to other allies in a similar


crisis. Even as the United States played a neutral role in the first month of the war, a


constant flow of data on Argentine dispositions and movements was quietly finding its


way to Great Britain through these channels.8 Signals and photographic intelligence


of the most sensitive nature was collected by American satellites, aircraft, and intercept


stations throughout the conflict and provided to London.9


The lack of airborne early warning aircraft handicapped the task force in its efforts


to defend itself and friendly shipping from air attack. These aircraft typically extend the


anti-air detection range of a battle group more than 200 miles when stationed along the


threat axis. That capability would have allowed the task force to detect and track


inbound Argentinian raids in real time from their air bases on the continent.


Unfortunately, the earliest warning usually came when a picket ship of the task force


detected the fire control radar of the approaching aircraft, too late in modern warfare to


prevent the enemy from firing his weapons. An early detection capability would have


allowed a Sea Harrier on combat air patrol to intercept the inbound flight before it


reached its weapons release point. Even if that failed, a remote data link track from an


early warning platform would have given surface ships a narrower search gate for their


Sea Dart and Sea Wolf missile systems, speeding up target acquisition and improving the


odds of achieving a kill.


Lacking the airborne early warning capability, the amphibious task force


commander was forced to select a landing beach where the terrain could offer some


protection to his shipping. Falkland Sound and San Carlos Water were ideal for masking


the ships, and the mountainous terrain surrounding the beachhead forced the Argentinian


planes to engage the amphibious group at close proximity with conventional ordnance,


giving them a window of only a few seconds in which to identify and attack a target. The


terrain masking worked both ways, however. The picket destroyers in Falkland Sound


had only a brief opportunity to engage the raiders, normally with their point defense


systems, before the attacking aircraft were gone. During the five days following the


amphibious landings at San Carlos, there were frequent gun duels between aircraft and


surface ships, and most of the losses sustained in combat by both sides occurred during


this phase.


The Falklands Campaign presented Great Britain with a logistician's nightmare.


No objective in the world was as remote or as disadvantageously placed. The theater of


operations was 8000 miles from Great Britain and nearly 4000 miles from the support


facilities on Ascension Island. The entire task force and landing force had to be supplied


and supported at that distance for three months. Ships and aircraft suffering equipment


casualties didn't have access to the logistic and maintenance facilities to which they were


accustomed when operating closer to home. Replacements for equipment lost in action


required weeks to bring into theater. Additionally, these conditions were imposed on the


task force during the South Atlantic winter, typically unforgiving and severe. In sharp


contrast, the Argentinians were operating close to home and using modern (if slightly


dated) weapons purchased form the United States and her allies. In theory, she could


bring viable combat forces into the theater or withdraw them as she chose on short




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

was secured.


*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


unfriendly hands.


We must take care not to fall into the same intelligence trap our British allies did.


We dismantled a portion of our overseas intelligence apparatus a few years ago in favor


of funding exotic satellite systems that can do wondrous things, but are themselves


vulnerable to deception and have a limited time over their target. We must maintain a


well-balanced collection and analysis capability, and actively employ it against all


potential adversaries, not just the most likely ones. We would be ill-served indeed if we


found ourselves preparing for war against a nation for which we had little information


or data.


The problem of mine warfare has been addressed in recent years by the U.S. Navy,


and we are currently building two new classes of mine hunting vessels and deploying


helicopters that can trail minesweeping equipment while airborne. The lessons of the


Gulf War reinforce the British experience in the Falklands: an inadequate mine detection


and neutralization capability is as dangerous as the lack of an anti-air warfare capability.


Using a frigate to test the waters near the landing site in San Carlos might have been the


best option under the circumstances in 1982, but in general, it is not a cost effective means


of sweeping a minefield. The damage done to USS Princeton and USS Tripoli during the


Gulf War serve as pointed reminders of the dangers associated with underfunding


important programs or providing the necessary assets to naval commanders in a war zone.


The current mine warfare programs underway in the U.S. Navy will support operations


described in the Navy's white paper, but only if sufficient time and sealift are available


to bring these vessels and aircraft into theater before commencing assault operations.


Finally, we must ensure continued access to the level of logistic support we


successfully mobilized for the Gulf War, including adequate sealift. The Falklands


Campaign is an excellent model for the extraordinary cooperation between the military


and domestic industry that will be needed for the type of campaign envisioned by


"...From the Sea." Their success in 1982 was the result of their ability to rapidly mobilize


shipping and aircraft for the movement of men and supplies to a theater 8000 miles away.


Similarly, our success in the Gulf War came from the same ability. We must continue to


maintain that capability or we will find ourselves incapable of repeating the successes of


either of those two campaigns.


In conclusion, there are a number of direct parallels between the British experience


and the kinds of action for which our armed forces are now preparing. We would do well


to revisit the Falklands Campaign every few years to ensure that its lessons are not









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

Ltd., 1985.


12. Oxford, MAJ Donald G., Command and Control Considerations for Amphibious Operations in

Limited Warfare. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1990.


13. Perrett, Bryan, Weapons of the Falklands Conflict. New York: Sterling, 1982.


14. Richelson, Jeffrey and Desmond Ball, The Ties That Bind. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.


15. Thompson, Julian, No Picnic. London: Leo Cooper, 1985.


16. Vaux, MGEN Nick, Take That Hill! Royal Marines in the Falklands War. London: Buchan &

Enright Publishers Ltd., 1986.


17. Watson, Bruce W. & Peter M. Dunn, ed. Military Lessons of the Falkland Islands War: Views

from the United States. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1984.


18. Woodward, ADM Sandy, One Hundred Days. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982.


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