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Falklands / Malvinas War

The Falklands War was by far the largest and most extended series of naval battles since the Pacific campaign in World War II. Designated Operation CORPORATE by the British, the five month war included the world's most significant amphibious operations since the Inchon landings in 1950, a logistics pipeline of over 7000 miles, and a winter combat arena 3300 miles from the nearest friendly base at Ascension Island.

The war was a product of a combination of miscalculations by both the British and the Argentines. On the one hand the British never imagined that Argentina would attempt to take over the islands by force, while on the other hand the Argentines did not expect that Britain would respond with force or that the United States would refuse to take the Argentine side. In the end, about 1,000 people died, scarce resources were spent, and international relations were strained.

In 1982 the Galtieri administration sought a way out of political and economic crises by initiating a suicidal war. The military was victorious in the short run, and indeed it rallied popular support around national loyalty. The actual motivation for Argentina's April 1982 invasion was a more immediate threat to General Leopoldo Galtieri's ruling military junta: internal instability in Argentina threatened to topple his dictatorship. Galtieri needed a uniting diversion, an outside conflict to distract the public and maintain domestic control.

Argentina's claim on the Falklands (which it calls the Malvinas Islands) was based on sheer proximity to Argentina's mainland and its purported "inheritance" of sovereignty from the failed 1810 Spanish government. This claim had great emotional significance for the Argentinean public, and had been part of public school history curricula for generations.

In 1979 full diplomatic relations were reestablished between Argentina and Britain, and in 1980 both countries resumed talks on the Falkland/ Malvinas question. During a round of talks in February 1982, however, Argentina refused to establish a compromise with Britain, and on March 1 the Minister of Foreign Relations Nicanor Costa Mndez of Argentina warned Britain that Argentina would seek other means of settling the dispute. On 19 March 1982, less than three weeks after the Argentine warning to Britain, a group of 30 Argentine scrap merchants landed on South Georgia/Georgia del Sur Island (part of the area under dispute) to dismantle an old whaling station under contract with a Scottish-based shipping firm. The venture was approved by both the British Embassy and the Argentina Foreign Ministry. The men, who did not carry appropriate visas and work permits, raised the Argentine flag on the island.

News of this incident was transmitted to London, but the tone of the report implied that the Argentines had invaded South Georgia with civilian and military personnel. This was picked up by the press and fueled public outcry that something had to be done to stop this outrage. Reprisal came the following day when a group of Falkland/ Malvinas islanders invaded the offices of the Argentine State Airline in the islands' capital of Stanley, replaced the Argentine flag with the British flag, and vandalized the office.

HMS Endurance was dispatched from Stanley with half the Falklands garrison embarked -- 22 Royal Marines and one lieutenant. They were under orders to deport the salvagers back to Argentina. Endurance arrived on 23 March and landed the Royal Marines.

Reports of the Stanley incident prompted Argentine naval movements in the South Atlantic. On 26 March, 100 Argentinean troops arrived by sea, purportedly to defend the salvagers. There were no plans to reinforce or sustain this force for a long period, the Argentines felt that this was just a gentle push to get the British back to the negotiating table. This Argentinean diversion on South Georgia achieved surprise, and provided a pretext for the 02 April invasion of East Falkland Island and the capture of Stanley.

Additional Argentinean reinforcements arrived steadily, and eventually there were over 4000 Argentinean troops were on the islands. The outnumbered British force observed the troops until 03 April, when the Royal Marines on South Georgia surrendered after the fall of Stanley.

The reaction of the British was not as the Argentines expected. The British viewed the invasion as a direct slap in the face. International reaction to Argentina's deployment of troops was quick to follow. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 502 on April 3, 1982, which deplored the invasion by Argentina, requested the cessation of hostilities, and demanded the withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falkland/ Malvinas Islands. Resolution 502 was soon invoked by the United States and the European Economic Community (EEC) in their calls for an end to the war. On April 6 Britain imposed a commercial embargo on all Argentine imports, which was seconded by the EEC and followed by Norway, Australia, and the Commonwealth of Nations countries, including Canada and the English-speaking nations of the Caribbean. The Argentine position was defended by a number of Latin American countries; Brazil declared itself neutral.

On 12 April, Britain declared a 200-mile Maritime Exclusion Zone around the islands, with the intent of weakening Argentinean supply and reinforcement efforts. Three British nuclear attack submarines enforced it until the arrival of the surface task force three weeks later. As the submarines continued interim blockade operations, 65 British ships were enroute the Falklands by the end of April: 20 warships, 8 amphibious ships, and 40 logistics ships from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Merchant Navy. The British task force carried 15,000 men, including a landing force of about 7000 Royal Marines and soldiers. The logistics ships carried provisions for about three months of combat.

Finally, on 25 April, a small British surface action group of two destroyers, six helicopters, and 230 men overwhelmed the 156-man Argentinean garrison on South Georgia.

Argentina's refusal to comply with a United States peace initiative prompted United States economic sanctions and the end of its officially neutral stance. On April 30 the United States declared a suspension of deliveries of all military hardware in the pipeline to Argentina and the withdrawal of further financial credits and guarantees.

The main Royal Navy task force arrived east of the Falklands on 01 May. Its plan was to establish naval and air supremacy by luring Argentinean warships and aircraft out from the mainland and destroying them, followed by an amphibious landing at Stanley. Two British attack submarines were positioned north of the Falklands to screen British ships against the main Argentinean naval task force and the aircraft carrier Veinticinco De Mayo, which had been operating in the area since 20 April. A third submarine was stationed south of the Falklands to monitor the Exocet-equipped Argentinean cruiser Belgrano and two accompanying destroyers. The British submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sunk Belgrano, which lost 368 of 1042 crewmen. The Argentinean task force to the north returned to base, where it remained until the end of the war; De Mayo disembarked it's A-4's, which operated from bases ashore for the rest of the war.

Air attacks from mainland bases against British ships were frequent throughout the war. Despite high-tech shipboard AAW defenses and the partially successful use of Sea Harriers in an air-to-air fleet defense role, the British Navy always remained on the defensive against Argentinean airpower.

Argentinean attack aircraft hit approximately 75 percent of British surface ships with bombs, only three British warships (one destroyer and two frigates) and two landing ships were sunk or severely damaged by bombs. The only other British ships sunk, one destroyer and one supply ship, were hit by Exocet missiles. The British Navy managed to destroy over half of Argentina's 134 combat aircraft during the war, using a combination of electronic warfare, Harriers, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-aircraft artillery.

The OAS held an emergency meeting from May 27 to 29 to deliberate on the Falkiand/Malvinas crisis, and a resolution was passed that invoked the principle of inter-American solidarity and called for a peaceful settlement. The OAS asked the United States to withdraw its support for Britain and lift its economic sanctions against Argentina.

The war concluded with Argentina's surrender on 14 June 1982, after a three-week British amphibious and ground operation on East Falkland Island. Three groups of Argentine troops under General Mario Benjamin Menndez formally surrended to the British.

For more than two months the propaganda machine in Argentina had worked feverishly. On June 15, however, Galtieri acknowledged the military defeat. It was not only the war that had been lost, but the military's professional competence was also brought into question, as well as its capacity to provide political leadership for Argentina. The war dealt a fatal blow to Galtieri's political aspirations and prompted the president's resignation on June 17.

The discussions between the military government and the political parties broke down as soon as news of the military defeat reached Buenos Aires. The frustration of an entire nation could be heard in the demands for the return of civilian rule that was embodied in the Multipartidaria's call for elections before the end of 1983.

Pertinent to the lack of cohesion among the Argentines was the great social distance between officers, NCOs, and conscripts. The latter served one year or less in the army. When the war began, "the majority of the class of 1962 (year of birth) had already been sent home, while the class of 1963 had not . . . even basic instruction." Further, most of the untrained conscripts came from the tropical northern provinces and were simply not prepared to confront "dreadful conditions and a well-trained and well-equipped enemy."

The Royal Marines routinely trained in the boggy marshes of Dartmouth Moors and had completed annual maneuvers in arctic conditions in Norway in April 1982. The paras regularly trained on the cold plains of Salisbury and had just returned from duty in Northern Ireland. One of the paras said: "I started out in a class with eighty-three men and only eleven of us finished. You know that you're the best in the world when you finish that training." Another said: "I could never figure out why the hell we were training in the muck and goo at Salisbury when we were going to fight in Northern Europe. Then when we were in the Falklands, I said to my mates, `Bloody Hell! This place is just like home.'"

Tradition was a powerful force in bonding. A Royal Marine commander told his 45 Commando, "We marched from Normandy to Berlin. We can bloody well march eighty miles to Stanley." A soldier told our author: "I'll be damned if I'm going to let down those chaps who fought at Arnhem." These are the words of proud, hard, and confident professionals.

The contrast was stark, and both sides knew it. An Argentine soldier said: "If I had had real officers who were real men, maybe I would have stayed. No way! I'm Argentine and we aren't made for killing people. We like to eat, go to the movies, drink, and dance. We aren't like the English. They are professional soldiers--war is their business."

The Falklands or Malvinas War raises a series of points regarding the causes of conflicts between nations. It also challenges some of the assumptions about conflict that have become axiomatic among political professionals. The first axiomatic assumption challenged by the Malvinas/Falklands War is the notion that "weaker" states will normally not assault "stronger," especially nuclear, states. The second challenged assumption is that leaders seek war to distract their citizens from domestic difficulties. The Malvinas/Falklands War also points out the dangerous potential for miscalculating an opponent's interests, the danger of misperceiving the character of a head of state, and the importance of cultural and historical perspectives.

Who would have thought that Argentina, an isolated nation, would go to war with its largest customer for agricultural exports, Great Britain? Who would have thought that this country, whose history included no real wars since the mid-nineteenth century, would challenge a nuclear-equipped nation? Who would have thought that Great Britain, a member of the UN Security Council and NATO, would fight over a desolate pile of rocks populated by a few sheepherders in the South Atlantic Ocean? Who would have thought that Great Britain would have gone to war to preserve remnants of its empire 37 years after World War II?

Serious economic problems, defeat by the UK in 1982 after an unsuccessful Argentine attempt to forcibly take control of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, public revulsion in the face of severe human rights abuses, and mounting charges of corruption combined to discredit and discourage the military regime. This prompted a period of gradual transition and led the country toward democratic rule. Acting under public pressure, the junta lifted bans on political parties and restored other basic political liberties. Argentina experienced a generally successful and peaceful return to democracy.

Argentina has restored diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. In September 1995, Argentina and the UK signed an agreement to promote oil and gas exploration in the Southwest Atlantic, defusing a potentially difficult issue and opening the way to further cooperation between the two nations. In 1998, President Menem visited the UK in the first official visit by an Argentine President since the 1960's.


  • "A Chronology of the Major Events Relating to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands from their Discovery to the Argentine Invasion 2 April 1982," Englebrecht, Col Joseph A., Jr., 1995, pp. 1
  • "Falklands/Malvinas (A): Breakdown of Negotiations," and Appendix B, "Early History and Legal Issues," Lippincott, Don (revised by Gregory F. Treverton), 1986, pp. 1- 18 and 20- 23.
  • The Falklands Campaign: The Lessons The Secretary of State for Defence, December 1982, pp. 5- 46.
  • Tilford, Earl H., Jr., "Air Power Lessons," Military Lessons of the Falkland Islands War: Views from the United States, 1984, pp. 37- 50.
  • Clausewitz and Seapower: Lessons of the Falkland Islands War Edward B. Zellem; Albert L. St Clair (Faculty Advisor) Air Command and Staff College 1999

  • 1982 FALKLANDS WAR by Gordon Smith

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Page last modified: 26-03-2015 19:29:49 ZULU